众乐三分快3彩票

众乐三分快3彩票众乐三分快3彩票

众乐三分快3彩票

Justine (1957) Part I Chapter 1Your last dark rapture from the mystical throngD. A. F. DE SADE: Justine 众乐三分快3彩票 Chapter XVIJustine (1957) Part I Chapter 9But I had hardly confided this letter to the muleteer postman who took our mail down to the town before I received a letter with an Egyptian stamp, addressed to me in an unknown hand. It read as follows: ‘You did not recognize it, did you? I mean the handwriting on the envelope? I confess that I chuckled as I addressed it to you, before beginning this letter: I could see your face all of a sudden with its expression of perplexity. I saw you turn the letter over in your fingers for a moment trying to guess who had sent it! ‘It is the first serious letter I have attempted, apart from short notes, with my new hand: this strange accessory -after the -fact with which the good Amaril has equipped me! I wanted it to become word -perfect before I wrote to you. Of course I was frightened and disgusted by it at first, as you can imagine. But I have come to respect it very much, this delicate and beautiful steel contrivance which lies beside me so quietly on the table in its green velvet glove! Nothing falls out as one imagines it. I could not have believed myself accepting it so completely — steel and rubber seem such strange allies for human flesh. But the hand has proved itself almost more competent even than an ordinary flesh -and -blood member! In fact its powers are so com prehensive that I am a little frightened of it. I can undertake the most delicate of tasks, even turning the pages of a book, as well as the coarser ones. But most important of all — ah! Darley I tremble as I write the words — IT can paint! ‘I have crossed the border and entered into the possession of my kingdom, thanks to the Hand. Nothing about this was pre meditated. One day it took up a brush and lo! pictures of truly troubling originality and authority were born. I have five of them now. I stare at them with reverent wonder. Where did they come from? But I know that the Hand was responsible. And this new handwriting is also one of its new inventions, tall and purposeful and tender. Don’t think I boast. I am speaking with the utmost objectivity, for I know that I am not responsible. It is the Hand alone which has contrived to slip me through the barriers into the company of the Real Ones as Pursewarden used to say. Yet it is a bit frightening; the elegant velvet glove guards its secret perfectly. If I wear both gloves a perfect anonymity is preserved! I watch with wonder and a certain distrust, as one might a beauti ful and dangerous pet like a panther, say. There is nothing, it seems, that it cannot do impressively better than I can. This will explain my silence and I hope excuse it. I have been totally absorbed in this new hand -language and the interior metamor phosis it has brought about. All the roads have opened before me, everything seems now possible for the first time. ‘On the table beside me as I write lies my steamship ticket to France; yesterday I knew with absolute certainty that I must go there. Do you remember how Pursewarden used to say that artists, like sick cats, knew by instinct exactly which herb they needed to effect a cure: and that the bitter -sweet herb of their self -discovery only grew in one place, France? Within ten days I shall be gone! And among so many new certainties there is one which has raised its head — the certainty that you will follow me there in your own good time. I speak of certainty not prophecy — I have done with fortune -tellers once and for all! ‘This, then, is simply to give you the dispositions which the Hand has imposed on me, and which I accept with eagerness and gratitude — with resignation also. This last week I have been paying a round of good -bye visits, for I think it will be some long time before I see Alexandria again. It has become stale and profitless to me. And yet how can we but help love the places which have made us suffer? Leave -takings are in the air; it’s as if the whole composition of our lives were being suddenly drawn away by a new current. For I am not the only person who is leaving the place — far from it. Mountolive, for example, will be leaving in a couple of months; by a great stroke of luck he has been given the plum post of his profession, Paris! With this news all the old uncertainties seem to have vanished; last week he was secretly married! You will guess to whom. ‘Another deeply encouraging thing is the return and recovery of dear old Pombal. He is back at the Foreign Office now in a senior post and seems to have recovered much of his old form to judge by the long exuberant letter he sent me. “How could I have forgotten” he writes “that there are no women in the world except French women? It is quite mysterious. They are the most lovely creation of the Almighty. And yet … dear Clea, there are so very many of them, and each more perfect than the other. What is one poor man to do against so many, against such an army? For Godsake ask someone, anyone, to bring up reinforcements. Wouldn’t Darley like to help an old friend out for old times’ sake?” ‘I pass you the invitation for what it is worth. Amaril and Semira will have a child this month — a child with the nose I invented! He will spend a year in America on some job or other, taking them with him. Balthazar also is off on a visit to Smyrna and Venice. My most piquant piece of news, however, I have saved for the last. Justine! ‘This I do not expect you to believe. Nevertheless I must put it down. Walking down Rue Fuad at ten o’clock on a bright spring morning I saw her come towards me, radiant and beautifully turned out in a spring frock of eloquent design: and flop flop flop beside her on the dusty pavements, hopping like a toad, the detested Memlik! Clad in elastic -sided boots with spats. A cane with a gold knob. And a newly minted flower -pot on his fuzzy crown. I nearly collapsed. She was leading him along like a poodle. One almost saw the cheap leather leash attached to his collar. She greeted me with effusive warmth and introduced me to her captive who shuffled shyly and greeted me in a deep groaning voice like a bass saxophone. They were on their way to meet Nessim at the Select. Would I go too? Of course would. You know how tirelessly curious I am. She kept shooting secret sparks of amusement at me without Memlik seeing. Her eyes were sparkling with delight, a sort of impish mockery. It was as if, like some powerful engine of destruction, she had suddenly switched on again. She has never looked happier or younger. When we absented ourselves to powder our noses I could only gasp: “Justine! Memlik! What on earth?” She gave a peal of laughter and giving me a great hug said: “I have found his point faible. He is hungry for society. He wants to move in social circles in Alexandria and meet a lot of white women!” More laughter. “But what is the object?” I said in bewilderment. Here all at once she became serious, though her eyes sparkled with clever malevo lence. “We have started something, Nessim and I. We have made a break through at last. Clea, I am so happy, I could cry. It is something much bigger this time, international. We will have to go to Switzerland next year, probably for good. Nessim’s luck has suddenly changed. I can’t tell you any details.” ‘When we reached the table upstairs Nessim had already arrived and was talking to Memlik. His appearance staggered me, he looked so much younger, and so elegant and self possessed. It gave me a queer pang, too, to see the passionate way t h e y e m b r a c e d , N e s s i m a n d J u s t i n e , a s i f o b l iv i o u s t o t h e r e s t o f t h e w o r l d . R i g h t t h e r e i n t h e p a s s i o n t h a t I d i d n o t k n o w w h e r e t o l o o k . c a f é , w i t h s u c h e c s t a t i c ‘Memlik sat there with his expensive gloves on his knee, smiling gently. It was clear that he enjoyed the life of high society, and I could see from the way he offered me an ice that he also enjoyed the company of white women! ‘Ah! it is getting tired, this miraculous hand. I must catch the evening post with this letter. There are a hundred things to attend to before I start the bore of packing. As for you, wise one, I have a feeling that you too perhaps have stepped across the threshold into the kingdom of your imagination, to t a k e p o s s e s s i o n o f i t o n c e a n d f o r a l l . W r i t e a n d t e l l m e — o r s a v e i t f o r s o m e s m a l l c a f é u n d e r w e a t h e r , b y a c h e s t n u t -t r e e , i n s m o k y a u t u m n the Seine. ‘I wait, quite serene and happy, a real human being, an artist at last. ‘Clea.’It was now, having achieved the major task of persuasion, that his self-assurance fled and left him face to face with a sensation entirely new to him, namely an acute shyness, an acute unwillingness to face his mother directly, to confront her with his intentions. He himself was puzzled by it, for they had always been close together, their confidences linked by an affection too deep to need the interpretation of words. If he had ever been shy or awkward it was with his awkward brother, never with her. And now? It was not as if he even feared her disfavour — he knew she would fall in with his wishes as soon as they were spoken. What then inhibited him? He could not tell. Yet he flushed as he thought of her now, and passed the whole of that morning in restless automatic acts, picking up a novel only to lay it down, mixing a drink only to abandon it, starting to sketch and then abruptly dropping the charcoal to walk out into the garden of the great house, ill at ease. He had telephoned his office to say that he was indisposed and then, as always when he had told a lie, began to suffer in truth with an attack of indigestion. Then he started to ask for the number of the old country house where Leila and Narouz lived, but changed his mind and asked the operator instead for the number of his garage. The car would be back, they told him, cleaned and greased by noon. He lay down and covered his face with his hands. Then he rang up Selim, his secretary, and told him to telephone to his brother and say that he was coming to Karm Abu Girg for the week-end. Heavens! what could be more normal? ‘You go on like a chambermaid who has got engaged’ he told himself hotly. Then for a moment he thought of taking someone with him to ease the strain of the meeting — Justine? Impossible. He picked up a novel of Pursewarden’s and came upon the phrase: ‘Love is like trench warfare — you cannot see the enemy, but you know he is there and that it is wiser to keep your head down.’ The doorbell rang. Selim brought him some letters to sign and then went silently upstairs to pack his bag and briefcase. There were papers he must take for Narouz to see — papers about the lift machinery needed to drain and reclaim the desert which fringed the plantations. Business matters were a welcome drug. The Hosnani fortunes were deployed in two directions, separated into two spheres of responsibility, and each brother had his own. Nessim controlled the banking house and its ancillaries all over the Mediterranean, while Narouz lived the life of a Coptic squire, never stirring from Karm Abu Girg where the Hosnani lands marched with the fringe of the desert, gradually eating into it, expropriating it year by year, spreading their squares of cultivation — carob and melon and corn — and pumping out the salt which poisoned it. ‘The car is here’ said the hawk-faced secretary as he returned. ‘Am I to drive you, sir?’ Nessim shook his head and dismissed him quietly, before crossing the garden once more, chin in hand. He paused by the lily pond to study the fish — those expensive toys of the ancient Japanese Emperors, survivals from an age of luxury, which he had imported at such cost, only to find them gradually dying off of some unknown illness — homesickness, perhaps? Pursewarden spent hours watching them. He said that they helped him to think about art! The great silver car stood at the door with the ignition key in the dashboard. He got in thoughtfully and drove slowly across the town, examining its parks and squares and buildings with a serene eye, but deliberately dawdling, irresolutely, emptying his mind by an act of will every time the thought of his destination came upon him. When he reached the sea he turned at last down the shining Corniche in the sunlight to watch the smooth sea and cloudless air for a moment, the car almost at a standstill. Then suddenly he changed gear and began to travel along the sea-shore at a more resolute pace. He was going home. Soon he turned inland, leaving the town with its palms crackling in the spring wind and turning towards the barren network of faults and dried-out lake-beds where the metalled road gave place to the brown earth tracks along embankments lined with black swamps and fringed by barbed reeds and a cross-hatching of sweetcorn plantations. The dust came up between his wheels and filled the air of the saloon, coating everything in a fine-grained pollen. The windscreen became gradually snowed-up and he switched on the wipers to keep it clear. Following little winding lanes which he knew by heart he came, after more than an hour, to the edge of a spit flanked by bluer water and left the car in the shadow of a tumbledown house, the remains perhaps of some ancient customs-shed built in the days when river traffic plied between Damietta and the Gulf: now drying up day by day, withering and cracking under the brazen Egyptian sky, forgotten by its keepers. He locked the car carefully and followed a narrow path across a holding of poverty-stricken beanrows and dusty melons, fringed with ragged and noisy Indian corn, to come out upon a landing-stage where an aged ferryman awaited him in a ramshackle boat. At once he saw the horses waiting upon the other side, and the foreshortened figure of Narouz beside them. He threw up an excited arm in an awkward gesture of pleasure as he saw Nessim. Nessim stepped into the boat with beating heart. ‘Narouz!’ The two brothers, so unlike in physique and looks, embraced with feeling which was qualified in Nessim by the silent agony of a shyness new to him. The younger brother, shorter and more squarely built than Nessim, wore a blue French peasant’s blouse open at the throat and with the sleeves rolled back, exposing arms and hands of great power covered by curly dark hair. An old Italian cartridge bandolier hung down upon his haunches. The ends of his baggy Turkish trousers with an old-fashioned drawstring, were stuffed into crumpled old jackboots of soft leather. He ducked, excitedly, awkwardly, into his brother’s arms and out again, like a boxer from a clinch. But when he raised his head to look at him, you saw at once what it was that had ruled Narouz’ life like a dark star. His upper lip was split literally from the spur of the nose — as if by some terrific punch: it was a hare-lip which had not been caught up and basted in time. It exposed the ends of a white tooth and ended in two little pink tongues of flesh in the centre of his upper lip which were always wet. His dark hair grew down low and curly, like a heifer’s, on to his brow. His eyes were splendid: of a blueness and innocence that made them almost like Clea’s: indeed his whole ugliness took splendour from them. He had grown a ragged and uneven moustache over his upper lip, as someone will train ivy over an ugly wall — but the scar showed through wherever the hair was thin: and his short, unsatisfactory beard too was a poor disguise: looked simply as if he had remained unshaven for a week. It had no shape of its own and confused the outlines of his taurine neck and high cheekbones. He had a curious hissing shy laugh which he always pointed downward into the ground to hide his lip. The whole sum of his movements was ungainly — arms and legs somewhat curved and hairy as a spider — but they gave off a sensation of overwhelming strength held rigidly under control. His voice was deep and thrilling and held something of the magic of a woman’s contralto. Whenever possible they tried to have servants or friends with them when they met — to temper their shyness; and so today Narouz had brought Ali, his factor, with the horses to meet the ferry. The old servant with the cropped ears took a pinch of dust from the ground before Nessim’s feet and pressed it to his forehead before extending his hand for a handshake, and then diffidently partook of the embrace Nessim offered him — as someone he had loved from his childhood onwards. Narouz was charmed by his brother’s easy, comradely but feeling gesture — and he laughed downwards into the ground with pleasure. ‘And Leila?’ said Nessim, in a low voice, raising his fingers to his temple for a moment as he did so. ‘Is well’ said Narouz in the tone that springs from a freshly rosined bow. ‘This past two months. Praise God.’ Their mother sometimes went through periods of mental instability lasting for weeks, always to recover again. It was a quiet surrender of the real world that surprised no one any longer, for she herself now knew when such an attack was coming on and would make preparations for it. At such times, she spent all day in the little hut at the end of the rose-garden, reading and writing, mostly the long letters which Mountolive read with such tenderness in Japan or Finland or Peru. With only the cobra for company, she waited until the influence of the afreet or spirit was spent. This habit had lasted for many years now, since the death of their father and her illness, and neither son took any account of these departures from the normal life of the great house. ‘Leila is well in her mind!’ said Narouz again in that thrilling voice. ‘So happy too that Mountolive is posted back. She looks years younger.’ ‘I understand.’ The two brothers now mounted their horses and started slowly along the network of embankments and causeways which led them over the lake with its panels of cultivation. Nessim always loved this ride for it evoked his real childhood — so much richer in variety than those few years spent in the house at Aboukir where Leila had moved for a while after their father’s death. ‘All your new lift pumps should be here next month’ he shouted, and Narouz chuckled with pleasure; but with another part of his mind he allowed the soft black earthworks of the river with its precarious tracks separating the squares of cultivated soil to lead him steadily back to the remembered treasures of his childhood here. For this was really Egypt — a Copt’s Egypt — while the white city, as if in some dusty spectrum, was filled with the troubling and alien images of lands foreign to it — the intimations of Greece, Syria, Tunis. It was a fine day and shallow draught boats were coursing among the beanfields towards the river tributaries, with their long curved spines of mast, lateen rigs bent like bows in the freshets. Somewhere a boatman sang and kept time on a finger-drum, his voice mixing with the sighing of sakkias and the distant village hangings of wheelwrights and carpenters manufacturing disc-wheels for wagons or the shallow-bladed ploughs which worked the alluvial riverside holdings. Brilliant kingfishers hunted the shallows like thunderbolts, their wings slurring, while here and there the small brown owls, having forgotten the night habits of their kind, flew between the banks, or nestled together in songless couples among the trees. The fields had begun to spread away on either side of the little cavalcade now, green and scented with their rich crops of bercim and beanrows, though the road still obstinately followed along the banks of the river so that their reflections rode with them. Here and there were hamlets whose houses of unbaked mud wore flat roofs made brilliant now by stacks of Indian corn which yellowed them. They passed an occasional line of camels moving down towards a ferry, or a herd of great black gamoose — Egyptian buffalo — dipping their shiny noses in the rich ooze and filth of some backwater, flicking the flies from their papery skins with lead tails. Their great curved horns belonged to forgotten frescoes. It was strange now how slowly life moved here, he reflected with pleasure as he moved towards the Hosnani property — women churning butter in goatskins suspended from bamboo tripods or walking in single file down to the river with their pots. Men in robes of blue cotton at the waterwheels, singing, matrons swathed from crown to ankle in the light dusty black robes which custom demanded, blue-beaded against the evil eye. And then all the primeval courtesies of the road exchanged between passers-by to which Narouz responded in his plangent voice, sounding as if it belonged to the language as much as to the place. ‘Naharak Said!’ he cried cheerfully, or ‘Said Embarak!’ as the wayfarers smiled and greeted them. ‘May your day be blessed’ thought Nessim in remembered translation as he smiled and nodded, overcome at the splendour of these old-fashioned greetings one never heard except in the Arab quarter of the city; ‘may today be as blessed as yesterday.’ He turned and said ‘Narouz’ and his brother rode up beside him tenderly, saying ‘Have you seen my whip?’ Laughing downwards again, his tooth showing through the rent in his lip. He carried a splendid hippopotamus-hide whip, loosely coiled at his saddle-bow. ‘I found the perfect one — after three years. Sheik Bedawi sent it down from Assuan. Do you know?’ He turned those brilliant blue eyes upwards for a moment to stare into the dark eyes of his brother with intense joy. ‘It is better than a pistol, at any rate a .99’ he said, thrilled as a child. ‘I’ve been practising hard with it — do you want to see?’ Without waiting for an answer he tucked his head down and rode forward at a trot to where some dozen chickens were scratching at the bare ground near a herdsman’s cot. A frightened rooster running faster than the others took off under his horse’s hooves: Nessim reined back to watch. Narouz’ arm shot up, the long lash uncurled slowly on the air and then went rigid with a sudden dull welt of sound, a sullen thwack, and laughing, the rider dismounted to pick up the mutilated creature, still warm and palpitating, its wings half-severed from its body, its head smashed. He brought it back to Nessim in triumph, wiping his hand casually on his baggy trousers. ‘What do you think?’ Nessim gripped and admired the great whip while his brother threw the dead fowl to his factor, still laughing himself, and so slowly remounted. They rode side by side now, as if the spell upon their communication were broken, and Nessim talked of the new machinery which had been ordered and heard of Narouz’ battle against drought and sand-drift. In such neutral subjects they could lose themselves and become natural. United most closely by such topics, they were like two blind people in love who can only express themselves through touch: the subject of their hands. The holdings became richer now, planted out with tamarisk and carob, though here and there they passed the remains of properties abandoned by owners too poor or too lazy to contend with the deserts, which encircled the fertile strip on three sides. Old houses, fallen now into desuetude, abandoned and overgrown, stared out across the water with unframed windows and shattered doors. Their gates, half-smothered in bougainvillaea, opened rustily into gardens of wild and unkempt beauty where marble fountains and rotted statuary still testified to a glory since departed. On either side of them one could glimpse the well-wooded lands which formed the edge, the outer perimeter of the family estates — palm, acacia and sycamore which still offered the precarious purchase to life which without shade and water perished, reverted to the desert. Indeed, one was conscious of the desert here although one could not see it — melodramatically tasteless as a communion wafer. Here an old island with a ruined palace; there tortuous paths and channels of running water where the slim bird-forms of river-craft moved about their task of loading tibbin (corn); they were nearing the village now. A bridge rose high upon mudbanks, crowned by a magnificent grove of palms, with a row of coloured boats waiting for the boom to lift. Here on the rise one glimpsed for a moment the blue magnetic haze of a desert horizon lying beyond this hoarded strip of plenty, of green plantations and water. Round a corner they came upon a knot of villagers waiting for them who set up cries of ‘What honour to the village!’ and ‘You bring blessings!’ walking beside them as they rode smiling onwards. Some advanced on them, the notables, catching a hand to kiss, and some even kissing Nessim’s stirrup-irons. So they passed through the village against its patch of emerald water and dominated by the graceful fig-shaped minaret, and the cluster of dazzling beehive domes which distinguished the Coptic church of their forefathers. From here, the road turned back again across the fields to the great house within its weather-stained outer walls, ruined and crumbling with damp in many places, and in others covered by such graffiti as the superstitious leave to charm the afreet — black talismanic handprints, or the legend ‘B’ism’illah ma’sha’llah’ (may God avert evil). It was for these pious villagers that its tenants had raised on the corners of the wall tiny wooden windmills in the shape of men with revolving arms, to scare the afreet away. This was the manor-house of Karm Abu Girg which belonged to them. Emin, the chief steward, was waiting at the outer gate with the usual gruff greetings which custom demanded, surrounded by a group of shy boys to hold the horses and help their riders dismount. The great folding doors of the courtyard with their pistol bolts and inscribed panels were set back so that they could walk directly into the courtyard against which the house itself was built, tilted upon two levels — the ceremonial first floor looking down sideways along the vaulted arches below — a courtyard with its granaries and reception-rooms, storehouses and stables. Nessim did not cross the threshold before examining once more the faded but still visible cartoons which decorated the wall at the right-hand side of it — and which depicted in a series of almost hieroglyphic signs the sacred journey he had made to bathe in the Jordan: a horse, a motorcar, a ship, an aeroplane, all crudely represented. He muttered a pious text, and the little group of servants smiled with satisfaction, understanding by this that his long residence in the city had not made him forget country ways. He never forgot to do this. It was like a man showing his passport. And Narouz too was grateful for the tact such a gesture showed — which not only endeared his brother to the dependants of the house, but also strengthened his own position with them as the ruling master of it. On the other side of the lintel, a similar set of pictures showed that he also, the younger brother, had made the pious pilgrimage which is incumbent upon every Copt of religious principles. The main gateway was flanked on each side by a pigeon-tower — those clumsy columns built of earthen pitchers pasted together anyhow with mud-cement: which are characteristic of country houses in Egypt and which supplied the choicest dish for the country squire’s table. A cloud of its inhabitants fluttered and crooned all day over the barrel-vaulted court. Here all was activity: the negro night-watchman, the ghaffirs, factors, stewards came forth one by one to salute the eldest brother, the heir. He was given a bowl of wine and a nosegay of flowers while Narouz stood by proudly smiling. Then they went at ceremonial pace through the gallery with its windows of many-coloured glass which for a brief moment transformed them into harlequins, and then out into the rose garden with its ragged and unkempt arbour and winding paths towards the little summer-house where Leila sat reading, unveiled. Narouz called her name once to warn her as they neared the house, adding ‘Guess who has come!’ The woman quickly replaced her veil and turned her wise dark eyes towards the sunlit door saying: ‘The boy did not bring the milk again. I wish you would tell him, Narouz. His mind is salt. The snake must be fed regularly or it becomes ill-tempered.’ And then the voice, swerving like a bird in mid-air, foundered and fell to a rich melodious near-sob on the name ‘Nessim’. And this she repeated twice as they embraced with such trembling tenderness that Narouz laughed, swallowing, and tasted both the joy of his brother’s love for Leila and his own bitterness in realizing that he, Nessim, was her favourite — the beautiful son. He was not jealous of Nessim; only heartsick at the melody in his mother’s voice — the tone she had never used in speaking to him. It had always been so. ‘I will speak to the boy’ he said, and looked about him for signs of the snake. Egyptians regard the snake as too lucky a visitant to a house to kill and so tempt ill-luck, and Leila’s long self-communing in the little summer-house would not have been complete without this indolent cobra which had learned to drink milk from a saucer like a cat. Still holding hands they sat down together and Nessim started to speak of political matters with those dark, clever, youthful eyes looking steadily into his. From time to time, Leila nodded vigorously, with a determined air, while the younger son watched them both hungrily, with a heavy admiration at the concise way Nessim abbreviated and expressed his ideas — the fruit of a long public life. Narouz felt these abstract words fall dully upon his ear, fraught with meanings he only half-guessed, and though he knew that they concerned him as much as anyone, they seemed to him to belong to some rarer world inhabited by sophists or mathematicians — creatures who would forge and give utterance to the vague longings and incoherent desires he felt forming inside him whenever Egypt was mentioned or the family estates. He sucked the knuckle of his forefinger, and sat beside them, listening, looking first at his mother and then back to Nessim. ‘And now Mountolive is coming back’ concluded Nessim, ‘and for the first time what we are trying to do will be understood. Surely he will help us, if it is possible? He understands.’ The name of Mountolive struck two ways. The woman lowered her eyes to her own white hands which lay before her upon a half-finished letter — eyes so brilliantly made up with kohl and antimony that to discern tears in them would have been difficult. Yet there were none. They sparkled only with affection. Was she thinking of those long letters which she had so faithfully written during the whole period of their separation? But Narouz felt a sudden stirring of jealousy in his brain at the mention of the name, under which, interred as if under a tombstone, he had hidden memories of a different epoch — of the young secretary of the High Commission whom his mother had — (mentally he never used the word ‘loved’ but left a blank space in his thoughts where it should stand); moreover of the sick husband in the wheelchair who had watched so uncomplainingly. Narouz’ soul vibrated with his father’s passion when Mountolive’s name, like a note of music, was struck. He swallowed and stirred uneasily now as he watched his mother tremblingly fold a letter and slide it into an envelope. ‘Can we trust him?’ she asked Nessim. She would have struck him over the mouth if he had answered ‘No.’ She simply wanted to hear him pronounce the name again. Her question was a prompting, nothing more. He kissed her hand, and Narouz greedily admired his courtier’s smiling air as he replied ‘If we cannot, who can we trust?’ As a girl, Leila had been both beautiful and rich. The daughter of a blue-stocking, convent-bred and very much in society, she had been among the first Coptic women to abandon the veil and to start to take up the study of medicine against her parents’ will. But an early marriage to a man very much older than herself had put an end to these excursions into the world of scope where her abilities might have given her a foot-hold. The temper of Egyptian life too was hostile to the freedom of women, and she had resigned a career in favour of a husband she very much admired and the uneventful round of country life. Yet somehow, under it all, the fire had burned on. She had kept friends and interests, had visited Europe every few years, had subscribed to periodicals in four languages. Her mind had been formed by solitude, enriched by books which she could only discuss in letters to friends in remote places, could only read in the privacy of the harim. Then came the advent of Mountolive and the death of her husband. She stood free and breathing upon the brink of a new world with no charge upon her but two growing sons. For a year she had hesitated between Paris and London as a capital of residence, and while she hesitated, all was lost. Her beauty, of which until then she had taken no particular account, as is the way with the beautiful, had been suddenly ravaged by a confluent smallpox which melted down those lovely features and left her only the magnificent eyes of an Egyptian sibyl. The black hideous veil which so long had seemed to her a symbol of servitude became now a refuge in which she could hide the ruins of a beauty which had been considered so outstanding in her youth. She had not the heart now to parade this new melted face through the capitals of Europe, to brave the silent condolences of friends who might remember her as she had once been. Turned back upon her tracks so summarily, she had decided to stay on and end her life in the family estates in such seclusion as might be permitted to her. Her only outlet now would be in letter-writing and in reading — her only care her sons. All the unsteadiness of her passions was canalized into this narrow field. A whole world of relations had to be mastered and she turned her resolution to it like a man. Ill-health, loneliness, boredom — she faced them one by one and overcame them — living here in retirement like a dethroned Empress, feeding her snake and writing her interminable letters which were full of the liveliness and sparkle of a life which now the veil masked and which could escape only through those still youthful dark eyes. She was now never seen in society and had become something of a legend amongst those who remembered her in the past, and who indeed had once nicknamed her the ‘dark swallow’. Now she sat all day at a rough deal table, writing in that tall thoughtful handwriting, dipping her quill into a golden inkpot. Her letters had become her very life, and in the writing of them she had begun to suffer from that curious sense of distorted reality which writers have when they are dealing with real people; in the years of writing to Mountolive, for example, she had so to speak re-invented him so successfully that he existed for her now not so much as a real human being but as a character out of her own imagination. She had even almost forgotten what he looked like, what to expect of his physical presence, and when his telegram came to say that he expected to be in Egypt again within a few months, she felt at first nothing but irritation that he should intrude, bodily as it were, upon the picture projected by her imagination. ‘I shall not see him’ she muttered at first, angrily; and only then did she start to tremble and cover her ravaged face with her hands. ‘Mountolive will want to see you’ said Nessim, at last, as the conversation veered round in his direction again. ‘When may I bring him? The Legation is moving up to summer quarters soon, so he will be in Alexandria all the time.’ ‘He must wait until I am ready’ she said, once more feeling the anger stir in her at the intrusion of this beloved figment. ‘After all these years.’ And then she asked with a pathetic lustful eagerness, ‘Is he old now — is he grey? Is his leg all right? Can he walk? That ski-ing fall in Austria….’ To all this Narouz listened with cocked head and sullen heavy heart: he could follow the feeling in her voice as one follows a line of music. ‘He is younger than ever’ said Nessim, ‘hasn’t aged by a day’: and to his surprise she took his hand, and putting it to her cheek she said brokenly ‘Oh — you are horrible, both of you. Go. Leave me alone now. I have letters to write.’ She permitted no mirrors in the harim since the illness which had deprived her of her self-esteem; but privately in a gold-backed pocket-mirror, she touched and pencilled her eyes in secret — her remaining treasure — practising different make-ups on them, practising different glances and matching them to different remarks — trying to give what was left of her looks a vocabulary as large as her lively mind. She was like a man struck suddenly blind learning to spell, with the only member left him, his hands. Now the two men walked back into the old house, with its cool but dusty rooms whose walls were hung with ancient carpets and embroidered mats, and crowded with gigantic carcasses of furniture long since outmoded — a sort of Ottoman Buhl such as one sees in the old houses of Egypt. Nessim’s heartstrings were tugged by the memory of its ugliness, its old-fashioned Second Empire pieces and its jealously guarded routines. The steward, according to custom, had stopped all the clocks. This, in the language of Narouz, said ‘Your stay with us is so brief, let us not be reminded of the flight of the hours. God made eternity. Let us escape from the despotism of time altogether.’ These ancient and hereditary politenesses filled Nessim with emotion. Even the primitive sanitary arrangements — there were no bathrooms — seemed to him somehow in keeping with the character of things, though he loved hot water. Narouz himself slept naked winter and summer. He washed in the courtyard — a servant threw water over him from a pitcher. Indoors, he usually wore an old blue cloak and Turkish slippers. He smoked tobacco too in a narguileh the length of a musket. While the elder brother unpacked his clothes, Narouz sat on the end of the bed studying the papers which filled the briefcase, musing with a quiet intentness, for they related to the machinery with the help of which he proposed to keep up and extend his attack on the dead sand. In the back of his mind he could see an army of trees and shrubs marching steadily forward into the emptiness — carob and olive, vine and jujube, pistachio, peach and apricot, spreading around them the green colours of quickness in those tenantless areas of dust choked with sea-salt. He looked almost lustfully upon the pictures of equipment in the shiny brochures Nessim had brought him, lovingly touching them with his finger, hearing in his imagination the suck and swell of sweet water through pumps gradually expressing the dead salts from the ground and quickening it to nourish the sipping roots of his trees. Gebel Maryut, Abusir — his mind winged away like a swallow across the dunes into the Nitrian desert itself — mentally conquering it. ‘The desert’ said Narouz. ‘By the way, will you ride out with me to the tents of Abu Kar tomorrow? I have been promised an Arab and I want to break it myself. It would make a pleasant excursion.’ Nessim was at once delighted at the prospect. ‘Yes’ he said. ‘But early’ said Narouz, ‘and we can pass the olive plantation for you to see what progress we’re making. Will you? Please do!’ He squeezed his arm. ‘Since we started with the Tunisian chimlali we haven’t had a single casualty. Oh, Nessim! I wish you stayed here. Your place is here.’ Nessim as always was beginning to wish the same. That night they dined in the old-fashioned way — so different from the impertinent luxury of Alexandrian forms — each taking his napkin from the table and proceeding to the yard for the elaborate hand-washing ceremony which preceded a meal in the country. Two servants poured for them as they stood side by side, washing their fingers with yellow soap, and rinsed them off with orange-water. Then to the table where their only cutlery was a wooden spoon each for dealing with soup — otherwise they broke the flat thin cakes of the country to dip into the dishes of cooked meats. Leila had always dined alone in the women’s quarters, and retired to bed early so that the two brothers were left alone to their repast. They ate in leisurely fashion, with long pauses between the courses, and Narouz acted host, placing choice morsels upon Nessim’s plate and breaking up the fowl and the turkey with his strong fingers the better to serve his guest. At last, when sweetmeats and fruit had been served, they returned once more to where the waiting servants stood and washed their hands again. In the interval, the table had been cleared of dishes and set back to make room for the old-fashioned divans to pass through the room and out on to the balcony. Smoking materials had been set out — the long-barrelled narguilehs with Narouz’ favourite tobacco and a silver dish of sweets. Here they sat together for a while in silence to drink their coffee. Nessim had kicked off his slippers and drawn his legs up under him: he sat with his chin in his hand wondering how he could impart his news, the marriage which nibbled at the edge of his mind: and whether he should be frank about his motives in choosing for a wife a woman who was of a different faith from his own. The night was hot and still, and the scent of magnolia blossom came up to the balcony in little drifts and eddies of air which made the candles flutter and dance; he was gnawed by irresolution. In such a mood every promise of distraction offered relief, and he was pleased when Narouz suggested that the village singer should be called to play for them, a custom which they had so often enjoyed as youths. There is nothing more appropriate to the heavy silence of the Egyptian night than the childish poignance of the kemengeh’s note. Narouz clapped his hands and despatched a message and presently the old man came from the servant’s quarters where he dined each night on the charity of the house, walking with the slow and submissive step of extreme old age and approaching blindness. The sounding-board of his small viol was made from half a coconut. Narouz sprang up and settled him upon a cushion at the end of the balcony. There came footsteps in the courtyard and a familiar voice, that of the old schoolmaster Mohammed Shebab, who climbed the stairs, smiling and wrinkled, to clasp Narouz’ hand. He had the bright hairy face of a monkey and wore, as usual, an immaculate dark suit with a rose in his button-hole. He was something of a dandy and an epicure and these visits to the great house were his only distraction, living as he did for the greater part of the year buried in the depths of the delta; he had brought the old treasured narguileh mouthpiece which he had owned for a quarter of a century. He was delighted to hear some music and listened with emotion to the wild quasidas that the old man sang — songs of the Arab canon full of the wild heart-sickness of the desert. The old voice, crumpled here and there like a fragile leaf, rose and fell upon the night; tracing the quavering melodic line of the songs as if it were following the ancient highways of half-obliterated thoughts and feelings. The little viol scribbled its complaints upon the text reaching back into their childhood. And now suddenly the singer burst into the passionate pilgrim song which expresses so marvellously the Moslem’s longing for Mecca and his adoration of the Prophet — and the melody fluttered inside the brothers’ hearts, imprisoned like a bird with beating wings. Narouz, though a Copt, was repeating ‘All-ah, All-ah!’ in a rapture of praise. ‘Enough, enough’ cried Nessim at last. ‘If we are to be up early, we should sleep early, don’t you think?’ Narouz sprang up too, and still acting the host, called for lights and water and walked before him to the guest-room. Here he waited until Nessim had washed and undressed and climbed into the creaking old-fashioned bed before bidding him good night. As he stood in the doorway, Nessim said impulsively: ‘Narouz — I’ve something to tell you.’ And then, overcome once more with shyness, added: ‘But it will keep until tomorrow. We shall be alone, shan’t we?’ Narouz nodded and smiled. ‘The desert is such torture for them that I always send them back at the fringe, the servants.’ ‘Yes.’ Nessim well knew that Egyptians believe the desert to be an emptiness populated entirely by the spirits of demons and other grotesque visitants from Eblis, the Moslem Satan. Nessim slept and awoke to find his brother, fully dressed, standing beside his bed with coffee and cigarettes. ‘It’s time’ he said. ‘I suppose in Alexandria you sleep late….’ ‘No’ said Nessim, ‘strangely enough I am usually at my office by eight.’ ‘Eight! Oh! my poor brother’ said Narouz mockingly, and helped him to dress. The horses were waiting and together they rode out upon a dawn with a thick bluish mist rising from the lake. Crisp air, inclining to frost — but already the sun was beginning to soak into the upper air and dry up the dew upon the minaret of the mosque. Narouz led now, down winding ways, along the tortuous bridle paths, and across embankments, quite unerringly, for the whole land existed in his mind like the most detailed map by a master cartographer. He carried it always in his head like a battle-plan, knowing the age of every tree, the poundage of every well’s water, the drift of sand to an inch. He was possessed by it. Slowly they made a circuit of the great plantation, soberly assessing progress and discussing plans for the next offensive when the new machinery should be installed. And then, presently when they had come to a lonely spot by the river, screened on all sides by reeds, Narouz said ‘Wait a second….’ and dismounted, taking as he did so the old leather game-bag from his shoulders. ‘Something to hide’ he said, smiling downwards shyly. Nessim watched him idly as he turned the bag over to tip its contents into the dank waters of the river. But he was not prepared to see a shrunken human head, lips drawn back over yellow teeth, eyes squinting inwards upon each other, roll out of the bag and sink slowly out of sight into the green depths beneath. ‘What the devil’s that?’ he asked, and Narouz gave his little hissing titter at the ground and replied ‘Abdel-Kader — head of.’ He knelt down and started washing the bag out in the water, moving it vigorously to and fro, and then with a gesture turned it inside out as one might turn a sleeve and returned to his horse. Nessim was thinking deeply. ‘So you had to do it at last’ he said. ‘I was afraid you might.’ Narouz turned his brilliant eyes upon his brother for a moment and said seriously: ‘More troubles with Bedouin labour could have cost us a thousand trees next year. It was too much of a risk to take. Besides, he was going to poison me.’ He said no more and they rode on in silence until they reached the thinning edges of cultivation — the front line so to speak where the battle was actually being joined at present — a long ragged territory like the edges of a wound. Along the whole length of it infiltration from the arable land on the one side and the desert drainage on the other, both charged with the rotten salts, had poisoned the ground and made it the image of desolation. Here only giant reeds and bulrushes grew or an occasional thorn bush. No fish could live in the brackish water. Birds shunned it. It lay in the stagnant belt of its own foul air, weird, obsessive and utterly silent — the point at which the desert and the sown met in a death-embrace. They rode now among towering rushes whose stems were bleached and salt-encrusted, glittering in the sun. The horses gasped and scrambled through the dead water which splashed upon them, crystallizing into spots of salt wherever it fell; pools of slime were covered with a crust of salt through which their plunging hooves broke, releasing horrible odours from the black mud beneath and sudden swarms of small stinging flies and mosquitoes. But Narouz looked about him with interest even here, his eyes alight, for he had already mentally planted this waste with carobs and green shrubs — conquered it. But they both held their breath and did not speak as they traversed this last mephitic barrier and the long patches of wrinkled mummy-like soil to which it gave place. Then at last they were on the edge of the desert and they paused in shadow while Narouz fished in his clothes for the little stick of blue billiard-marker’s chalk. They rubbed a little chalk under each of their eyelids with a finger against the glare — as they had always done, even as children; and each tied a cloth around his head in Bedouin fashion. And then: the first pure draughts of desert air, and the nakedness of space, pure as a theorem, stretching away into the sky drenched in all its own silence and majesty, untenanted except by such figures as the imagination of man has invented to people landscapes which are inimical to his passions and whose purity flays the mind. Narouz gave a shout and the horses, suddenly awoken and filled with a sense of new freedom and space around them, started their peculiar tearing plunging gallop across the dunes, manes and tassels tossing, saddles creaking. They raced like this for many minutes, Nessim giggling with excitement and joy. It was so long since he had ridden at this wild gallop. But they held it, completing a slow arc eastwards across scrubby land where wild flowers bloomed and butterflies tippled amongst the waste of dunes and the dingy tenacious specimens of plant-life. Their hooves rattled across shingle floors, through stone valleys with great sandstone needles and chines of rosy shale filling in the known horizons. Nessim was busy with his memories of those youthful nights camped out here under a sky hoary with stars, in a booming tent (whose frosted guy-ropes glittered like brilliants) pitched under Vega, the whole desert spread around them like an empty room. How did one come to forget the greatest of one’s experiences? It was all lying there like a piano that one could play but which one had somehow forgotten to touch for years. He was irradiated by the visions of his inner eye and followed Narouz blindly. He saw them in all that immensity — two spots like pigeons flying in an empty sky. They halted for a short rest in the shadow of a great rock — a purple oasis of darkness — panting and happy. ‘If we put up a desert wolf said Narouz ‘I’ll run it down with my kurbash,’ and he caressed the great whip lovingly, running it through his fingers. When they set off again, Narouz started a slow tacking path, questing about for the ancient caravan route — the masrab which would take them to the Quasur el Atash (Castles of the Thirsty) where the Sheik’s men were due to meet them before noon. Once Nessim too had known these highways by heart — the smugglers’ roads which had been used for centuries by the caravans which plied between Algiers and Mecca — the ‘bountiful highways’ which steered the fortunes of men through the wilderness of the desert, taking spices and stuffs from one part of Africa to another or affording to the pious their only means of reaching the Holy City. He was suddenly jealous of his brother’s familiarity with the desert they had once equally owned. He copied him eagerly. Presently Narouz gave a hoarse shout and pointed and in a little while they came upon the masrab — a highway of camel-tracks, deeply worn in some places into solid rock, but running in a wavy series, parallel from horizon to horizon. And here once more the younger brother set the pace. His blue shirt was now stained violet at the armpits. ‘Nearly there’ he cried, and out of the trembling pearly edges of the sky there swam slowly a high cluster of reddish basalt blocks, carved into the vague semblance (like a face in the fire) of a sphinx tortured by thirst; and there, gibbering in the dark shade of a rock, the little party waited to conduct them to the Sheik’s tents — four tall lean men, made of brown paper, whose voices cracked at the edges of meaning with thirst, and whose laughter was like fury unleashed. To them they rode — into the embrace of arms like dry sticks and the thorny clicking of an unfamiliar Arabic in which Narouz did all the talking and explaining. Nessim waited, feeling suddenly like a European, city-bred, a visitor: for the little party carried with them all the feeling of the tight inbred Arab world — its formal courtesies and feuds — its primitiveness. He surprised himself by seeking in his own mind the memory of a painting by Bonnard or a poem by Blake — as a thirsty man might grope at a spring for water. In such a way might a traveller present himself to some rude mountain clan, admiring their bunioned feet and coarse hairy legs, but grateful too that the sum of European culture was not expressed by their life-hating, unpleasure-loving strength. Here he suddenly lost his brother, parted company with him, for Narouz had plunged into the life of these Arabian herdsmen with the same intensity as he plunged into the life of his land, his trees. The great corded muscles in his hairy body were tense with pride, for he, a city-bred Alexandrian — almost a despised Nasrany — could out-shoot, out-talk and out-gallop any of them. On him whose mettle they knew they kept a speculative aboriginal eye; the gentle Nessim they had seen in many guises before, his well-kept hands betrayed a city gentleman. But they were polite. A knowledge of forms only was necessary now, not insight, for these delightful desert folk were automata; thinking of Mountolive Nessim smiled suddenly and wondered where the British had found the substance of their myths about the desert Arab. The fierce banality of their lives was so narrow, so regulated. If they stirred one at all it was as the bagpipe can, without expressing anything above the level of the primitive. He watched his brother handle them, simply from a knowledge of their forms of behaviour, as a showman handles dancing fleas. Poor souls! He felt the power and resource of his city-bred intelligence stir in him. They all rode now in a compact group to the Sheik’s tents, down long ribbed inclines of sand, through mirages of pastures which only the rain clouds imagined, until they came there, to the little circle of tents, manhood’s skies of hide, invented by men whose childish memories were so fearful they had had perforce to invent a narrower heaven in which to contain the germ of the race; in this little cone of hide the first child was born, the first privacy of the human kiss invented…. Nessim wished bitterly that he could paint as well as Clea. Absurd thoughts, and out of place. But the Sheik’s tents were extensive, covering nearly two thousand square feet with a tent-cloth woven of goat-hair in broad stitches of black, green, maroon and white. Long tassels hung down from the seams, playing in the wind. The Sheik and his sons, like a gallery of playing cards, awaited them with the conventional greetings to which Narouz at least knew every response. The Sheik himself conducted them to a tent saying ‘This house is your house; do as you please. We are your servants.’ And behind him pressed the water-carriers to bathe their hands and feet and faces — the latter now somewhat dry and blistered by the journey. They rested for at least an hour, for the heat of the day was at full, in that brown darkness. Narouz lay snoring upon the cushions with arms and legs outspread while Nessim dozed fitfully, awakening from time to time to watch him — the effortless progress of sleep which physical surrender to action always brings. He brooded upon his brother’s ugliness — the magnificent set of white teeth showing through the pink rent in his upper lip. From time to time, too, as they rested, the headmen of the tribe called noiselessly, taking off their shoes at the entrance of the tent, to enter and kiss Nessim’s hand. Each uttered the single word of welcome ‘Mahubbah’ in a whisper. It was late in the afternoon when Narouz woke and calling for water doused his body down, asking at the same time for a change of clothes which were at once brought to him by the Sheik’s eldest son. He strode out into the heat of the sand saying: ‘Now for the colt. It may take a couple of hours? You won’t mind? We’ll be back a bit late, eh?’ Cushions had been set for them in the shade and here Nessim was glad to recline and watch his brother moving quickly across the dazzle of sand towards a group of colts which had been driven up for him to examine. They played gracefully and innocently, the tossing of their heads and manes seeming to him ‘like the surf of the June sea’ as the proverb has it. Narouz stopped keenly as he neared them, watching. Then he shouted something and a man raced out to him with a bridle and bit. ‘The white one’ he cried hoarsely and the Sheik’s sons shouted a response which Nessim did not catch. Narouz turned again, and softly with a queer ducking discretion, slipped in among the young creatures and almost before one could think was astride a white colt after having bridled it with a single almost invisible gesture. The mythical creature stood quite still, its eyes wide and lustrous as if fully to comprehend this tremendous new intelligence of a rider upon its back, then a slow shudder rippled through its flesh — the tides of the panic which always greets such a collision of human and animal worlds. Horse and rider stood as if posing for a statue, buried in thought. Now the animal suddenly gave a low whistling cry of fear, shook itself and completed a dozen curious arching jumps, stiffly as a mechanical toy, coming down savagely on its forelegs each time with the downthrust. This did not dislodge Narouz who only leaned forward and growled something in its ear that drove it frantic for it now set off at a ragged plunging tossing canter, turning and curvetting and ducking. They made a slow irregular circle round the tents until at last they came back to where the crowd of Arabs stood at the doorway of the main tent, watching silently. And now the poor creature, as if aware that some great portion of its real life — its childhood perhaps — was irrevocably over, gave another low whistling groan and broke suddenly into the long tireless flying gallop of its breed, aimed like a shooting-star to pierce the very sky, and whirled away across the dunes with its rider secured to it by the powerful scissors of his legs — firm as a figure held by ringbolts — diminishing rapidly in size until both were lost to sight. A great cry of approval went up from the tents and Nessim accepted, besides the curd cheese and coffee, the compliments which were his brother’s due. Two hours later Narouz brought her back, glistening with sweat, dejected, staggering, with only enough fight in her to blow dejectedly and stamp, conquered. But he himself was deliriously exhausted, dazed as if he had ridden through an oven, while his bloodshot eyes and drawn twitching face testified to the severity of the fight. The endearments he uttered to the horse came from between parched and cracked lips. But he was happy underneath it all — indeed radiant — as he croaked for water and begged leave of half an hour’s rest before they should set out once more on the homeward journey. Nothing could finally tire that powerful body — not even the orgasm he had experienced in long savage battle. But closing his eyes now as he felt the water pouring over his head, he saw again the dark bleeding sun which shimmered behind their lids, image of fatigue, and felt the desert glare parching and cracking the water on his very skin. His mind was a jumble of sharp stabbing colours and apprehensions — as if the whole sensory apparatus had melted in the heat like a colour-box, fusing thought and wish and desire. He was light-headed with joy and felt as unsubstantial as a rainbow. Yet in less than half an hour he was ready for the journey back. They set off with a different escort this time across the inclining rays of sunlight which threw their rose and purple shadows into the sockets of the dunes. They made good time to the Quasur el Atash. Narouz had made arrangements for the white colt to be delivered him later in the week by the Chief’s sons, and he rode at ease now, occasionally singing a stave or two of a song. Darkness fell as they reached the Castles of the Thirsty and having said good-bye to their hosts set off once more across the desert. They rode slowly at ease, watching the brindled waning moon come up on a silence broken only by the sudden stammer of then-horses’ hooves on a shingle bed, or the far-away ululations of jackals, and now, quite suddenly, Nessim found the barrier lifted and was able to say: ‘Narouz, I am going to be married. I want you to tell Leila for me. I don’t know why but I feel shy about it.’ For a minute Narouz felt himself turned to ice — a figure in a coat of mail; he seemed to sway in his saddle as with a delight so forced and hollow that it made his voice snap off short he crabbed out the words: ‘To Clea, Nessim? To Clea?’ feeling the blood come rushing back to his ticking nerves when his brother shook his head and stared curiously at him. ‘No. Why? To Arnauti’s ex-wife’ replied Nessim with a controlled, a classical precision of utterance. They rode on with creaking saddles and Narouz, who was now grinning to himself with relief, cried ‘I am so happy, Nessim! At last! You will be happy and have children.’ But here Nessim’s mortal shyness overcame him again and he told Narouz all that he had learned about Justine and about the loss of her child, adding: ‘She does not love me now, and does not pretend to: but who knows? If I can get her child back and give her some peace of mind and security, anything is possible.’ He added after a moment ‘Don’t you think?’ not because he wished for an opinion on the matter but simply to bridge the silence which poured in between them like a drifting dune. ‘As for the child, it is difficult. The Parquet have investigated as best they could — and what little evidence they have points to Magzub (the Inspired One); there was a festival in the town that evening and he was there. He has been several times accused of kidnapping children but the case has always been dropped for lack of evidence.’ Narouz pricked up his ears and bristled like a wolf. ‘You mean the hypnotist?’ Nessim said thoughtfully: ‘I have sent to offer him a large sum of money — very large indeed — for what I want to know. Do you see?’ Narouz shook his head doubtfully and picked at his short beard. ‘He is the one who is mad’ he said. ‘He used to come to St Damiana every year. But strange-mad. Zein-el-Abdin. He is holy too.’ ‘That is the one’ said Nessim; and as if struck by an afterthought Narouz reined both horses and embraced him, uttering the conventional congratulations in the family tongue. Nessim smiled and said: ‘You will tell Leila? Please, my brother.’ ‘Of course.’ ‘After I have gone?’ ‘Of course.’ With the release of this tension and Narouz’ ready compliance Nessim suddenly felt a load lifted from his mind. And correspondingly he suddenly felt very tired and on the point of sleep. They travelled briskly but without haste and it was towards midnight when they came once more within sight of the desert’s edge. Here the horses put up a startled hare and Narouz made an attempt to ride it down with his whip but he missed it in the half-darkness. ‘It is very good news’ he cried on returning to Nessim’s side, as if the little gallop across the moonlit dunes had given him all the time and detachment he needed to come to a considered opinion. ‘Will you bring her to us next week — to Leila? I think I must have met her but cannot remember. Very dark? “A firefly’s light in darkness for such eyes” as the song goes?’ He laughed his downward laugh. Nessim yawned sleepily. ‘Ach! my bones ache. That is what I get for living in Alexandria. Narouz, before I fall asleep there was one other thing I meant to ask you. I have not seen Pursewarden. The meetings?’ Narouz drew a hissing inward breath and turned his bright eyes to his brother, saying ‘Yes. Very well. The next one is to be at the mulid of St Damiana, in the desert.’ He flexed the great muscles of his shoulders. ‘The whole ten families are coming — can you believe it?’ ‘You will be careful’ said his brother ‘to see that everything is done privately and there are no leaks.’ ‘Of course!’ he cried. ‘I mean’ said Nessim ‘that in the early stages this should not have a political character. It must grow slowly with the understanding of the matter. Eh? I do not think, for example, it is necessary for you to actually speak to them, but rather to discuss. We can’t risk. You see, it is not only the British.’ Narouz jaunted a leg impatiently and picked his teeth. He thought of Mountolive and sighed. ‘It is also the French — and they are at cross-purposes. If we are to use them both….’ ‘I know, I know’ said Narouz impatiently. Nessim looked at him keenly. ‘Attend’ he said sharply, ‘for much depends on your understanding just how far we can go at this stage.’ His reproof crushed Narouz. He flushed and joined his hands together as he looked at his brother. ‘I do’ he said in a low hoarse voice. Nessim at once felt ashamed of himself and took his arm. He went on in his low confiding tone. ‘You see, there are mysterious leaks from time to time. Old Cohen, for example, the furrier who died last month. He was working for the French in Syria. On his return, the Egyptians knew all about his mission. How? Nobody knows. Among our friends we certainly have enemies — in Alexandria itself. Do you see?’ ‘I see.’ The next morning it was time for Nessim to return and the two brothers rode out across the fields at a leisurely pace to the point of rendezvous at the ferry. ‘Why do you never come into the town?’ said Nessim. ‘Come with me today. There’s a ball at the Randidis’. You’d enjoy it as a change.’ Narouz as always wore a hang-dog expression when anyone suggested an excursion into the city. ‘I shall come at Carnival’ he said slowly, looking at the ground, and his brother laughed and touched his arm. ‘I knew you’d say that! Always, once a year at Carnival. I wonder why!’ But he knew; Narouz’ mortal shyness about his hare-lip had driven him into a seclusion almost as unbroken as that of his mother. Only the black domino of the carnival balls permitted him to disguise the face he had come to loathe so much that he could no longer bear to see it even in a shaving-mirror. At the carnival ball he felt free. And yet there was another and indeed unexpected reason — a passion for Clea which had lasted for years now; for a Clea to whom he had never spoken, and indeed only twice seen when she came down with Nessim to ride on the estate. This was a secret which could not have been dragged out of him under torture, but to every carnival dance he came and drifted about in the crowd hoping vaguely that he might by accident meet this young woman whose name he had never uttered aloud to anyone until that day. (He did not know that Clea loathed the carnival season and spent the time quietly drawing and reading in her studio.) They parted now with a warm embrace and Nessim’s car scribbled its pennants of dust across the warm air of the fields, eager to regain the coast road once more. A battleship in the basin was firing a twenty-one gun salute, in honour perhaps of some Egyptian dignitary, and the explosions appeared to make the clouds of pearl which always overhung the harbour in spring, tremble and change colour. The sea was high today, and four fishing-boats tacked furiously towards the town harbour with their catch. Nessim stopped only once, to buy himself a carnation for his buttonhole from the flower-vendor on the corner of Saad Zagloul. Then he went to his office, pausing to have his shoe-shine on the way up. The city had never seemed more beautiful to him. Sitting at his desk he thought of Leila and then of Justine. What would his mother have to say about his decision? Narouz walked out to the summer-house that morning to discharge his mission; but first he picked a mass of blooms from the red and yellow roses with which to refill the two great vases which stood on either side of his father’s portrait. His mother was asleep at her desk but the noise he made lifting the latch woke her at once. The snake hissed drowsily and then lowered its head to the ground once more. ‘Bless you, Narouz’ she said as she saw the flowers and rose at once to empty her vases. As they started to trim and arrange the new blooms, Narouz broke the news of his brother’s marriage. His mother stood quite still for a long time, undisturbed but serious as if she were consulting her own inmost thoughts and emotions. At last she said, more to herself than anyone, ‘Why not?’ repeating the phrase once or twice as if testing its pitch. Then she bit her thumb and turning to her younger son said ‘But if she is an adventuress, after his money, I won’t have it. I shall take steps to have her done away with. He needs my permission anyhow.’ Narouz found this overwhelmingly funny and gave an appreciative laugh. She took his hairy arm between her fingers. ‘I will’ she said. ‘Please.’ ‘I swear it.’ He laughed now until he showed the pink roof of his mouth. But she remained abstracted, still listening to an inner monologue. Absently she patted his arm as he laughed and whispered ‘Hush’; and then after a long pause she said, as if surprised by her own thoughts. ‘The strange thing is, I mean it.’ ‘And you can’t count on me, eh?’ he said, still laughing but with the germ of seriousness in his words. ‘You can’t trust me to watch over my own brother’s honour.’ He was still swollen up toad-like by the laughter, though his expression had now become serious. ‘My God’ she thought, ‘how ugly he is.’ And her fingers went to the black veil, pressing through it to the rough cicatrices in her own complexion, touching them fiercely as if to smooth them out. ‘My good Narouz’ she said, almost tearfully, and ran her fingers through his hair; the wonderful poetry of the Arabic stirred and soothed him in one. ‘My honeycomb, my dove, my good Narouz. Tell him yes, with my embrace. Tell him yes.’ He stood still, trembling like a colt, and drinking in the music of her voice and the rare caresses of that warm and capable hand. ‘But tell him he must bring her here to us.’ ‘I will.’ ‘Tell him today.’ And he walked with his queer jerky sawing stride to the telephone in the old house. His mother sat at her dusty table and repeated twice in a low puzzled tone: ‘Why should Nessim choose a Jewess?’The blue Alexandrian dusk was not yet fully upon them. “But do you … how shall one say it? … Do you really care for her, Nessim? I know of course how you have been haunting her; and she knows what is in your mind.’ Clea’s golden head against the window remained steady, her gaze was fixed upon the chalk drawing she was doing. It was nearly finished; a few more of those swift, flowing strokes and she could release her subject. Nessim had put on a striped pullover to model for her. He lay upon her uncomfortable little sofa holding a guitar which he could not play, and frowning. ‘How do you spell love in Alexandria?’ he said at last, softly. ‘That is the question. Sleeplessness, loneliness, bonheur, chagrin — I do not want to harm or annoy her, Clea. But I feel that somehow, somewhere, she must need me as I need her. Speak, Clea.’ He knew he was lying. Clea did not. She shook her head doubtfully, still with her attention on the paper, and then shrugged her shoulders. ‘Loving you both as I do, who could wish for anything better? And I have spoken to her, as you asked me, tried to provoke her, probe her. It seems hopeless.’ Was this strictly true, she asked herself? She had too great a tendency to believe what people said. ‘False pride?’ he said sharply. ‘She laughs hopelessly and’ Clea imitated a gesture of hopelessness ‘like that! I think she feels that she has had all the clothes stripped off her back in the street by that book Moeurs. She thinks herself no longer able to bring anyone peace of mind! Or so she says.’ ‘Who asks for that?’ ‘She thinks you would. Then of course, there is your social position. And then she is, after all, a Jew. Put yourself in her place.’ Clea was silent for a moment. Then she added in the same abstract tone: ‘If she needs you at all it is to use your fortune to help her search for the child. And she is too proud to do that. But … you have read Moeurs. Why repeat myself?’ ‘I have never read Moeurs’ he said hotly, ‘and she knows that I never will. I have told her that. Oh, Clea dear!’ He sighed. This was another he. Clea paused, smiling, to consider his dark face. Then she continued, rubbing at the corner of the drawing with her thumb as she said: ‘Chevalier sans peur, etc. That is like you, Nessim. But is it wise to idealize us women so? You are a bit of a baby still, for an Alexandrian.’ ‘I don’t idealize; I know exactly how sad, mad or bad she is. Who does not? Her past and her present … they are known to everyone. It is just that I feel she would match perfectly my own….’ ‘Your own what?’ ‘Aridity’ he said surprisingly, rolling over, smiling and frowning at the same time. ‘Yes, I sometimes think I shall never be able to fall in love properly until after my mother dies — and she is still comparatively young. Speak, Clea!’ The blonde head shook slowly. Clea took a puff from the cigarette burning in the ashtray beside the easel and bent once more to the work in hand. ‘Well’ said Nessim, ‘I shall see her myself this evening and make a serious attempt to make her understand.’ ‘You do not say “make her love”!’ ‘How could I?’ ‘If she cannot love, it would be dishonourable to pretend.’ ‘I do not know whether I can yet either; we are both ames veuves in a queer way, don’t you see?’ ‘Oh, la, la!’ said Clea, doubtfully but still smiling. ‘Love may be for a time incognito with us’ he said, frowning at the wall and setting his face. ‘But it is there. I must try to make her see.’ He bit his lip. ‘Do I really present such an enigma?’ He really meant ‘Do I succeed in deluding you?’ ‘Now you’ve moved’ she said reproachfully; and then after a moment went on quietly: ‘Yes. It is an enigma. Your passion sounds so voulue. A besoin d’aimer without a besoin d’être aimé? Damn!’ He had moved again. She stopped in vexation and was about to reprove him when she caught sight of the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘It’s time to go’ she said. ‘You must not keep her waiting.’ ‘Good’ he said sharply, and rising, stripped off the pullover and donned his own well-cut coat, groping in the pocket for the keys of the car as he turned. Then, remembering, he brushed his dark hair back swiftly, impatiently, in the mirror, trying suddenly to imagine how he must look to Justine. ‘I wish I could say exactly what I mean. Do you not believe in love-contracts for those whose souls aren’t yet up to loving? A tendresse against an amour-passion, Clea? If she had parents I would have bought her from them unhesitatingly. If she had been thirteen she would have had nothing to say or feel, eh?’ ‘Thirteen!’ said Clea in disgust; she shuddered and pulled his coat down at the back for him. ‘Perhaps’ he went on ironically, ‘unhappiness is a diktat for me…. What do you think?’ ‘But then you would believe in passion. You don’t.’ ‘I do … but….’ He gave his charming smile and made a tender hopeless gesture in the air, part resignation, part anger. ‘Ah, you are no use’ he said. ‘We are all waiting for an education of sorts.’ ‘Go’ said Clea, ‘I’m sick of the subject. Kiss me first.’ The two friends embraced and she whispered: ‘Good luck’ while Nessim said between his teeth ‘I must stop this childish interrogation of you. It is absurd. I must do something decisive about her myself.’ He banged a doubled fist into the palm of his hand, and she was surprised at such unusual vehemence in one so reserved. ‘Well’ she said, with surprise opening her blue eyes, ‘this is new!’ They both laughed. He pressed her elbow and turning ran lightly down the darkening staircase to the street. The great car responded to his feather-deftness of touch on the controls; it bounded crying its klaxon-warnings, down Saad Zaghloul and across the tramlines to roll down the slope towards the sea. He was talking to himself softly and rapidly in Arabic. In the gaunt lounge of the Cecil Hotel she would perhaps be waiting, gloved hands folded on her handbag, staring out through the windows upon which the sea crawled and sprawled, climbing and subsiding, across the screen of palms in the little municipal square which flapped and creaked like loose sails. As he turned the corner, a procession was setting out raggedly for the upper town, its brilliant banners pelted now by a small rain mixed with spray from the harbour; everything flapped confusedly. Chanting and the noise of triangles sounded tentatively on the air. With an expression of annoyance he abandoned the car, locked it, and looked anxiously at his watch, ran the last hundred yards to the circular glass doors which would admit him upon the mouldering silence of the great lounge. He entered breathless but very much aware of himself. This siege of Justine had been going on for months now. How would it end — with victory or defeat? He remembered Clea saying: ‘Such creatures are not human beings at all, I think. If they live, it is only inasmuch as they represent themselves in human form. But then, anyone possessed by a single ruling passion presents the same picture. For most of us, life is a hobby. But she seems like a tense and exhaustive pictorial representation of nature at its most superficial, its most powerful. She is possessed — and the possessed can neither learn nor be taught. It doesn’t make her less lovely for all that it is death-propelled ; but my dear Nessim — from what angle are you to accept her?’ He did not as yet know; they were sparring still, talking in different languages. This might go on forever, he thought despairingly. They had met more than once, formally, almost like business partners to discuss the matter of this marriage with the detachment of Alexandrian brokers planning a cotton merger. But this is the way of the city. With a gesture which he himself thought of as characteristic he had offered her a large sum of money saying: ‘Lest an inequality of fortune may make your decision difficult, I propose to make you a birthday present which will enable you to think of yourself as a wholly independent person — simply as a woman, Justine. This hateful stuff which creeps into everyone’s thoughts in the city, poisoning everything! Let us be free of it before deciding anything.’ But this had not answered; or rather had provoked only the insulting, uncomprehending question: ‘Is it that you really want to sleep with me? You may. Oh, I would do anything for you, Nessim.’ This disgusted and angered him. He had lost himself. There seemed no way forward along this line. Then suddenly, after a long moment of thought, he saw the truth like a flashing light. He whispered to himself with surprise: ‘But that is why I am not understood; I am not being really honest.’ He recognized that though he might have initially been swayed by his passion, he could think of no way to stake a claim on her attention, except, first, by the gift of money (ostensibly to ‘free’ her but in fact only to try and bind her to him) — and then, as his desperation increased, he realized that there was nothing to be done except to place himself entirely at her mercy. In one sense it was madness — but he could think of no other way to create in her the sense of obligation on which every other tie could be built. In this way a child may sometimes endanger itself in order to canvass a mother’s love and attention which it feels is denied to it. ‘Look’ he said in a new voice, full of new vibrations, and now he had turned very pale. ‘I want to be frank. I have no interest in real life.’ His lips trembled with his voice. ‘I am visualizing a relationship far closer in a way than anything passion could invent — a bond of a common belief.’ She wondered for a moment whether he had some strange new religion, whether this was what was meant. She waited with interest, amused yet disturbed to see how deeply moved he was. ‘I wish to make you a confidence now which, if betrayed, might mean irreparable harm to myself and my family; and indeed to the cause I am serving. I wish to put myself utterly in your power. Let us suppose we are both dead to love … I want to ask you to become part of a dangerous….’ The strange thing was that as he began to talk thus, about what was nearest to his thoughts, she began to care, to really notice him as a man for the first time. For the first time he struck a responsive chord in her by a confession which was paradoxically very far from a confession of the heart. To her surprise, to her chagrin and to her delight, she realized that she was not being asked merely to share his bed — but his whole life, the monomania upon which it was built. Normally, it is only the artist who can offer this strange and selfless contract — but it is one which no woman worth the name can ever refuse. He was asking, not for her hand in marriage (here his lies had created the misunderstanding) but for her partnership in allegiance to his ruling daimon. It was in the strictest sense, the only meaning he could put upon the word ‘love’. Slowly and quietly he began, passionately collecting his senses now that he had decided to tell her, marshalling his words, husbanding them. ‘You know, we all know, that our days are numbered since the French and the British have lost control in the Middle East. We, the foreign communities, with all we have built up, are being gradually engulfed by the Arab tide, the Moslem tide. Some of us are trying to work against it; Armenians, Copts, Jews, and Greeks here in Egypt, while others elsewhere are organizing themselves. Much of this work I have undertaken here. … To defend ourselves, that is all, defend our lives, defend the right to belong here only. You know this, everyone knows it. But to those who see a little further into history….’ Here he smiled crookedly — an ugly smile with a trace of complacency in it. ‘Those who see further know this to be but a shadow-play; we will never maintain our place in this world except it be by virtue of a nation strong and civilized enough to dominate the whole area. The day of France and England is over — much as we love them. Who, then, can take their place?’ He drew a deep breath and paused, then he squeezed his hands together between his knees, as if he were squeezing out the unuttered thought, slowly, luxuriously from a sponge. He went on in a whisper: ‘There is only one nation which can determine the future of everything in the Middle East. Everything — and by a paradox, even the standard of living of the miserable Moslems themselves depends upon it, its power and resources. Have you understood me, Justine? Must I utter its name? Perhaps you are not interested in these things?’ He gave her a glittering smile. Their eyes met. They sat staring at each other in the way that only those who are passionately in love can stare. He had never seen her so pale, so alert, with all her intelligence suddenly mobilized in her looks. ‘Must I say it?’ he said, more sharply; and suddenly expelling her breath in a long sigh she shook her head and whispered the single word. ‘Palestine.’ There was a long silence during which he looked at her with a triumphant exultation. ‘I was not wrong’ he said at last, and she suddenly knew what he meant: that his long-formulated judgement of her had not been at fault. ‘Yes, Justine, Palestine. If only the Jews can win their freedom, we can all be at ease. It is the only hope for us … the dispossessed foreigners’ He uttered the word with a slight twist of bitterness. They both slowly lit cigarettes now with shaking fingers and blew the smoke out towards each other, enwrapped by a new atmosphere of peace, of understanding. ‘The whole of our fortune has gone into the struggle which is about to break out there’ he said under his breath. ‘On that depends everything. Here, of course, we are doing other things which I will explain to you. The British and French help us, they see no harm. I am sorry for them. Their condition is pitiable because they have no longer the will to fight or even to think.’ His contempt was ferocious, yet full of controlled pity. ‘But with the Jews — there is something young there: the cockpit of Europe in these rotten marshes of a dying race.’ He paused and suddenly said in a sharp, twanging tone: ‘Justine.’ Slowly and thoughtfully, at the same moment they put out their hands to each other. Their cold fingers locked and squeezed hard. On the faces of both there was expressed an exultant determination of purpose, almost of terror! His image had suddenly been metamorphosed. It was now lit with a new, a rather terrifying grandeur. As she smoked and watched him, she saw someone different in his place — an adventurer, a corsair, dealing with the lives and deaths of men; his power too, the power of his money, gave a sort of tragic backcloth to the design. She realized now that he was not seeing her — the Justine thrown back by polished mirrors, or engraved in expensive clothes and fards — but something even closer than the chamber-mate of a passional life. This was a Faustian compact he was offering her. There was something more surprising: for the first time she felt desire stir within her, in the loins of that discarded, pre-empted body which she regarded only as a pleasure-seeker, a mirror-reference to reality. There came over her an unexpected lust to sleep with him — no, with his plans, his dreams, his obsessions, his money, his death! It was as if she had only now understood the nature of the love he was offering her; it was his all, his only treasure, this pitiable political design so long and so tormentingly matured in his heart that it had forced out every other impulse or wish. She felt suddenly as if her feelings had become caught up in some great cobweb, imprisoned by laws which lay beneath the level of her conscious will, her desires, the self-destructive flux and reflux of her human personality. Their fingers were still locked, like a chord in music, drawing nourishment from the strength transmitted by their bodies. Just to hear him say: ‘Now my life is in your keeping’ set her brain on fire, and her heart began to beat heavily in her breast. ‘I must go now’ she said, with a new terror — one that she had never experienced before — ‘I really must go.’ She felt unsteady and faint, touched as she was by the coaxings of a power stronger than any physical attraction could be. ‘Thank God’ he said under his breath, and again ‘Oh Thank God.’ Everything was decided at last. But his own relief was mixed with terror. How had he managed at last to turn the key in the lock? By sacrificing to the truth, by putting himself at her mercy. His unwisdom had been the only course left open. He had been forced to take it. Subconsciously he knew too, that the oriental woman is not a sensualist in the European sense; there is nothing mawkish in her constitution. Her true obsessions are power, politics and possessions — however much she might deny it. The sex ticks on in the mind, but its motions are warmed by the kinetic brutalities of money. In this response to a common field of action, Justine was truer to herself than she had ever been, responding as a flower responds to light. And it was now, while they talked quietly and coldly, their heads bent towards each other like flowers, that she could at last say, magnificently: ‘Ah, Nessim, I never suspected that I should agree. How did you know that I only exist for those who believe in me?’ He stared at her, thrilled and a little terrified, recognizing in her the perfect submissiveness of the oriental spirit — the absolute feminine submissiveness which is one of the strongest forces in the world. They went out to the car together and Justine suddenly felt very weak, as if she had been carried far out of her depth and abandoned in mid-ocean. ‘I don’t know what more to say.’ ‘Nothing. You must start living.’ The paradoxes of true love are endless. She felt as if she had received a smack across the face. She went into the nearest coffee-shop and ordered a cup of hot chocolate. She drank it with trembling hands. Then she combed her hair and made up her face. She knew her beauty was only an advertisement and kept it fresh with disdain. It was some hours later, when he was sitting at his desk, that Nessim, after a long moment of thought, picked up the polished telephone and dialled Capodistria’s number. ‘Da Capo’ he said quietly, ‘you remember my plans for marrying Justine? All is well. We have a new ally. I want you to be the first to announce it to the committee. I think now they will show no more reservation about my not being a Jew — since I am to be married to one. What do you say?’ He listened with impatience to the ironical congratulations of his friend. ‘It is impertinent’ he said at last, coldly ‘to imagine that I am not motivated by feelings as well as by designs. As an old friend I must warn you not to take that tone with me. My private life, my private feelings, are my own. If they happen to square with other considerations, so much the better. But do not do me the injustice of thinking me without honour. I love her.’ He felt quite sick as he said the words: sick with a sudden self-loathing. Yet the word was utterly exact — love. Now he replaced the receiver slowly, as if it weighed a ton, and sat staring at his own reflection in the polished desk. He was telling himself: ‘It is all that I am not as a man which she thinks she can love. Had I no such plans to offer her, I might have pleaded with her for a century. What is the meaning of this little four-letter word we shake out of our minds like poker-dice — love?’ His self-contempt almost choked him. That night she arrived unexpectedly at the great house just as the clocks were chiming eleven. He was still up and dressed and sitting by the fire, sorting his papers. ‘You did not telephone?’ he cried with delight, with surprise. ‘How wonderful!’ She stood in grave silence at the door until the servant who had showed her in retired. Then she took a step forward letting her fur cape slide from her shoulders. They embraced passionately, silently. Then, turning her regard upon him in the firelight, that look at once terrified and exultant, she said: ‘Now at last I know you, Nessim Hosnani.’ Love is every sort of conspiracy. The power of riches and intrigue stirred within her now, the deputies of passion. Her face wore the brilliant look of innocence which comes only with conversion to a religious way of life! ‘I have come for your directions, for further instructions’ she said. Nessim was transfigured. He ran upstairs to his little safe and brought down the great folders of correspondence — as if to show that he was honest, that his words could be verified there and then, on the spot. He was now revealing to her something which neither his mother nor his brother knew — the extent of his complicity in the Palestine conspiracy. They crouched down before the fire talking until nearly dawn. ‘You will see from all this my immediate worries. You can deal with them. First the doubts and hesitations of the Jewish Committee. I want you to talk to them. They think that there is something questionable about a Copt supporting them while the local Jews are staying clear, afraid of losing their good name with the Egyptians. We must convince them, Justine. It will take a little while at least to complete the arms build-up. Then, all this must be kept from our well-wishers here, the British and the French. I know they are busy trying to find out about me, my underground activities. As yet, I think they don’t suspect. But among them all there are two people who particularly concern us. Darley’s liaison with the little Melissa is one point névralgique; as I told you she was the mistress of old Cohen who died this year. He was our chief agent for arms shipments, and knew all about us. Did he tell her anything? I don’t know. Another person even more equivocal is Pursewarden; he clearly belongs to the political agency of the Embassy. We are great friends and all that but … I am not sure what he suspects. We must if necessary reassure him, try and sell him an innocent community movement among the Copts! What else does he, might he, know or fear? You can help me here. Oh, Justine, I knew you would understand!’ Her dark intent features, so composed in the firelight, were full of a new clarity, a new power. She nodded. In her hoarse voice she said ‘Thank you, Nessim Hosnani. I see now what I have to do.’ Afterwards they locked the tall doors, put away the papers, and in the dead of night lay down before the fire in each other’s arms, to make love with the passionate detachment of succubi. Savage and exultant as their kisses were, they were but the lucid illustrations of their human case. They had discovered each other’s inmost weakness, the true site of love. And now at last there were no reserves and no inhibitions in Justine’s mind, and what may seem wantonness in other terms was really the powerful coefficient of a fully realized abandonment to love itself — a form of true identity she had never shared with anyone else! The secret they shared made her free to act. And Nessim foundering in her arms with his curiously soft — almost virginal — femininity, felt shaken and banged by her embrace like a rag doll. The nibbling of her lips reminded him of the white Arab mare he had owned as a child; confused memories flew up like flocks of coloured birds. He felt exhausted, on the point of tears, and yet irradiated by a tremendous gratitude and tenderness. In these magnificent kisses all his loneliness was expurgated. He had found someone to share his secret — a woman after his own special heart. Paradox within paradox! As for her, it was as if she had rifled the treasury of his spiritual power symbolized so queerly in the terms of his possessions; the cold steel of rifles, the cold nipples of bombs and grenades which had been born from tungsten, gum arabic, jute, shipping, opals, herbs, silks and trees. He felt her on top of him, and in the plunge of her loins he felt the desire to add to him — to fecundate his actions; and to fructify him through these fatality-bearing instruments of his power, to give life to those death-burdening struggles of a truly barren woman. Her face was expressionless as a mask of Siva. It was neither ugly nor beautiful, but naked as power itself. It seemed coeval (this love) with the Faustian love of saints who had mastered the chilly art of seminal stoppage in order the more clearly to recognize themselves — for its blue fires conveyed not heat but cold to the body. But will and mind burned up as if they had been dipped in quicklime. It was a true sensuality with nothing of the civilized poisons about it to make it anodyne, palatable to a human society constructed upon a romantic idea of truth. Was it the less love for that? Paracelsus had described such relationships among the Caballi. In all this one may see the austere mindless primeval face of Aphrodite. And all the time he was thinking to himself: ‘When all this is over, when I have found her lost child — by that time we shall be so close that there will never be any question of leaving me.’ The passion of their embraces came from complicity, from something deeper, more wicked, than the wayward temptings of the flesh or the mind. He had conquered her in offering her a married life which was both a pretence and yet at the same time informed by a purpose which might lead them both to death! This was all that sex could mean to her now! How thrilling, sexually thrilling, was the expectation of their death! He drove her home in the first faint trembling light of dawn; waited to hear the lift climb slowly, painfully, to the third floor and return again. It stopped with a slight bounce before him and the light went out with a click. The personage had gone, but her perfume remained. It was a perfume called ‘Jamais de la vie’.***** A mania for self-justification is common both to those whose consciences are uneasy and to those who seek a philosophic rationale for their actions: but in either case it leads to strange forms of thinking. The idea is not spontaneous, but voulue. In the case of Justine this mania led to a perpetual flow of ideas, speculations on past and present actions, which pressed upon her mind with the weight of a massive current pressing upon the walls of a dam. And for all the wretched expenditure of energy in this direction, for all the passionate contrivance in her self-examination, one could not help distrusting her conclusions, since they were always changing, were never at rest. She shed theories about herself like so many petals. ‘Do you not believe that love consists wholly of paradoxes?’ she once asked Arnauti. I remember her asking me much the same question in that turbid voice of hers which somehow gave the question tenderness as well as a sort of menace. ‘Supposing I were to tell you that I only allowed myself to approach you to save myself from the danger and ignominy of falling deeply in love with you? I felt I was saving Nessim with every kiss I gave you.’ How could this, for example, have constituted the true motive for that extraordinary scene on the beach? No rest from doubt, no rest from doubt. On another occasion she dealt with the problem from another angle, not perhaps less truthfully: ‘The moral is — what is the moral? We were not simply gluttons, were we? And how completely this love-affair has repaid all the promises it held out for us — at least for me. We met and the worst befell us, but the best part of us, our lovers. Oh! please do not laugh at me.’ For my part I remained always stupefied and mumchance at all the avenues opened up by these thoughts; and afraid, so strange did it seem to talk about what we were actually experiencing in such obituary terms. At times I was almost provoked like Arnauti, on a similar occasion, to shout: ‘For the love of God, stop this mania for unhappiness or it will bring us to disaster. You are exhausting our lives before we have a chance to live them.’ I knew of course the uselessness of such an exhortation. There are some characters in this world who are marked down for self-destruction, and to these no amount of rational argument can appeal. For my part Justine always reminded me of a somnambulist discovered treading the perilous leads of a high tower; any attempt to wake her with a shout might lead to disaster. One could only follow her silently in the hope of guiding her gradually away from the great shadowy drops which loomed up on every side. But by some curious paradox it was these very defects of character — these vulgarities of the psyche — which constituted for me the greatest attraction of this weird kinetic personage. I suppose in some way they corresponded to weaknesses in my own character which I was lucky to be able to master more thoroughly than she could. I know that for us love-making was only a small part of the total picture projected by a mental intimacy which proliferated and ramified daily around us. How we talked! Night after night in shabby sea-front cafés (trying ineffectually to conceal from Nessim and other common friends an attachment for which we felt guilty). As we talked we insensibly drew nearer and nearer to each other until we were holding hands, or all but in each other’s arms: not from the customary sensuality which afflicts lovers but as if the physical contact could ease the pain of self-exploration. Of course this is the unhappiest love-relationship of which a human being is capable — weighed down by something as heartbreaking as the post-coital sadness which clings to every endearment, which lingers like a sediment in the clear waters of a kiss. ‘It is easy to write of kisses’ says Arnauti, ‘but where passion should have been full of clues and keys it served only to slake our thoughts. It did not convey information as it usually does. There was so much else going on.’ And indeed in making love to her I too began to understand fully what he meant in describing the Check as ‘the parching sense of lying with some lovely statue which was unable to return the kisses of the common flesh which it touches. There was something exhausting and perverting about loving so well and yet loving so little.’ The bedroom for example with its bronze phosphorous light, the pastels burning in the green Tibetan urn diffusing a smell of roses to the whole room. By the bed the rich poignant scent of her powder hanging heavy in the bed-curtains. A dressing-table with its stoppered cream and salves. Over the bed the Universe of Ptolemy! She has had it drawn upon parchment and handsomely framed. It will hang forever over her bed, over the ikons in their leather cases, over the martial array of philosophers. Kant in his nightcap feeling his way upstairs. Jupiter Tonans. There is somehow a heavy futility in this array of great ones — among whom she has permitted Pursewarden an appearance. Four of his novels are to be seen though whether she has put them there specially for the occasion (we are all dining together) I cannot say. Justine surrounded by her philosophers is like an invalid surrounded by medicines — empty capsules, bottles and syringes. ‘Kiss her’ says Arnauti ‘and you are aware that her eyes do not close but open more widely, with an increasing doubt and madness. The mind is so awake that it makes any gift of the body partial — a panic which will respond to nothing less than a curette. At night you can hear her brain ticking like a cheap alarm-clock.’ On the far wall there is an idol the eyes of which are lit from within by electricity, and it is to this graven mentor that Justine acts her private role. Imagine a torch thrust through the throat of a skeleton to light up the vault of the skull from which the eyeless sockets ponder. Shadows thrown on the arch of the cranium flap there in imprisonment. When the electricity is out of order a stump of candle is soldered to the bracket: Justine then, standing naked on tip-toes to push a lighted match into the eyeball of the God. Immediately the furrows of the jaw spring into relief, the shaven frontal bone, the straight rod of the nose. She has never been tranquil unless this visitant from distant mythology is watching over her nightmares. Under it he a few small inexpensive toys, a celluloid doll, a sailor, about which I have never had the courage to question her. It is to this idol that her most marvellous dialogues are composed. It is possible, she says, to talk in her sleep and be overheard by the wise and sympathetic mask which has come to represent what she calls her Noble Self — adding sadly, with a smile of misgiving, ‘It does exist you know.’ The pages of Arnauti run through my mind as I watch her and talk to her. ‘A face famished by the inward light of her terrors. In the darkness long after I am asleep she wakes to ponder on something I have said about our relationship. I am always waking to find her busy with something, preoccupied; sitting before the mirror naked, smoking a cigarette, and tapping with her bare foot on the expensive carpet.’ It is strange that I should always see Justine in the context of this bedroom which she could never have known before Nessim gave it to her. It is always here that I see her undergoing those dreadful intimacies of which he writes. ‘There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self — because she does not know where to find it.’ How often, lying beside her, I have debated these observations which, to the ordinary reader, might pass unnoticed in the general flux and reflux of ideas in Moeurs. She does not slide from kisses into sleep — a door into a private garden — as Melissa does. In the warm bronze light her pale skin looks paler — the red eatable flowers growing in the cheeks where the light sinks and is held fast. She will throw back her dress to unroll her stocking and show you the dark cicatrice above the knee, lodged between the twin dimples of the suspender. It is indescribable the feeling I have when I see this wound — like a character out of the book — and recall its singular origin. In the mirror the dark head, younger and more graceful now than the original it has outlived, gives back a vestigial image of a young Justine — like the calcimined imprint of a fern in chalk: the youth she believes she has lost. I cannot believe that she existed so thoroughly in some other room; that the idol hung elsewhere, in another setting. Somehow I always see her walking up the long staircase, crossing the gallery with its putti and ferns, and then entering the low doorway into this most private of rooms. Fatma, the black Ethiopian maid, follows her. Invariably Justine sinks on to the bed and holds out her ringed fingers as with an air of mild hallucination the negress draws them off the long fingers and places them in a small casket on the dressing-table. The night on which Pursewarden and I dined alone with her we were invited back to the great house, and after examining the great cold reception rooms Justine suddenly turned and led the way upstairs, in search of an ambience which might persuade my friend whom she greatly admired and feared, to relax. Pursewarden had been surly all evening, as he often was, and had busied himself with the drinks to the exclusion of anything else. The little ritual with Fatma seemed to free Justine from constraint ; she was free to be natural, to move about with ‘that insolent unbalanced air, cursing her frock for catching in the cupboard door’, or pausing to apostrophize herself in the great spade-shaped mirror. She told us of the mask, adding sadly: ‘It sounds cheap and rather theatrical, I know. I turn my face to the wall and talk to it. I forgive myself my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. Sometimes I rave a little and beat on the wall when I remember the follies which must seem insignificant to others or to God — if there is a God. I speak to the person I always imagine inhabiting a green and quiet place like the 23rd Psalm.’ Then coming to rest her head upon my shoulder and put her arms round me, ‘That is why so often I ask you to be a little tender with me. The edifice feels as if it had cracked up here. I need little strokes and endearments like you give Melissa; I know it is she you love. Who could love me?’ Pursewarden was not, I think, proof against the naturalness and charm of the tones in which she said this, for he went to the corner of the room and gazed at her bookshelf. The sight of his own books made him first pale and then red, though whether with shame or anger I could not tell. Turning back he seemed at first about to say something, but changed his mind. He turned back once more with an air of guilty chagrin to confront that tremendous shelf. Justine said: ‘If you wouldn’t consider it an impertinence I should so like you to autograph one for me’ but he did not reply. He stayed quite still, staring at the shelf, with his glass in his hand. Then he wheeled about and all of a sudden he appeared to have become completely drunk; he said in a fierce ringing tone: ‘The modern novel! The grumus merdae left behind by criminals upon the scene of their misdeeds.’ And quietly falling sideways, but taking care to place his glass upright on the floor he passed immediately into a profound sleep. The whole of the long colloquy which ensued took place over this prostrate body. I took him to be asleep, but in fact he must have been awake for he subsequently reproduced much of Justine’s conversation in a cruel satirical short story, which for some reason amused Justine though it caused me great pain. He described her black eyes shining with unshed tears as she said (sitting at the mirror, the comb travelling through her hair, crackling and sputtering like her voice). ‘When I first met Nessim and knew that I was falling in love with him I tried to save us both. I deliberately took a lover — a dull brute of a Swede, hoping to wound him and force him to detach himself from his feeling for me. The Swede’s wife had left him and I said (anything to stop him snivelling): “Tell me how she behaves and I will imitate her. In the dark we are all meat and treacherous however our hair kinks or skin smells. Tell me, and I will give you the wedding-smile and fall into your arms like a mountain of silk.” And all the time I was thinking over and over again: “Nessim. Nessim.” ’ I remember in this context, too, a remark of Pursewarden’s which summed up his attitude to our friends. ‘Alexandria!’ he said (it was on one of those long moonlit walks). ‘Jews with their cafeteria mysticism! How could one deal with it in words? Place and people?’ Perhaps then he was meditating this cruel short story and casting about for ways and means to deal with us. ‘Justine and her city are alike in that they both have a strong flavour without having any real character.’ I am recalling now how during that last spring (forever) we walked together at full moon, overcome by the soft dazed air of the city, the quiet ablutions of water and moonlight that polished it like a great casket. An aerial lunacy among the deserted trees of the dark squares, and the long dusty roads reaching away from midnight to midnight, bluer than oxygen. The passing faces had become gem-like, tranced — the baker at his machine making the staff of tomorrow’s life, the lover hurrying back to his lodging, nailed into a silver helmet of panic, the six-foot cinema posters borrowing a ghastly magnificence from the moon which seemed laid across the nerves like a bow. We turn a corner and the world becomes a pattern of arteries, splashed with silver and deckle-edged with shadow. At this far end of Kom El Dick not a soul abroad save an occasional obsessive policeman, lurking like a guilty wish in the city’s mind. Our footsteps run punctually as metronomes along the deserted pavements: two men, in their own time and city, remote from the world, walking as if they were treading one of the lugubrious canals of the moon. Pursewarden is speaking of the book which he has always wanted to write, and of the difficulty which besets a city-man when he faces a work or art. ‘If you think of yourself as a sleeping city for example … what? You can sit quiet and hear the processes going on, going about their business; volition, desire, will, cognition, passion, conation. I mean like the million legs of a centipede carrying on with the body powerless to do anything about it. One gets exhausted trying to circumnavigate these huge fields of experience. We are never free, we writers. I could explain it much more clearly if it was dawn. I long to be musical in body and mind. I want style, consort. Not the little mental squirts as if through the ticker-tape of the mind. It is the age’s disease, is it not? It explains the huge waves of occultism lapping round us. The Cabal, now, and Balthazar. He will never understand that it is with God we must be the most careful; for He makes such a powerful appeal to what is lowest in human nature — our feeling of insufficiency, fear of the unknown, personal failings; above all our monstrous egotism which sees in the martyr’s crown an athletic prize which is really hard to attain. God’s real and subtle nature must be clear of distinctions: a glass of spring-water, tasteless, odourless, merely refreshing: and surely its appeal would be to the few, the very few, real contemplatives? ‘As for the many it is already included in the part of their nature which they least wish to admit or examine. I do not believe that there is any system which can do more than pervert the essential idea. And then, all these attempts to circumscribe God in words or ideas…. No one thing can explain everything: though everything can illuminate something. God, I must be still drunk. If God were anything he would be an art. Sculpture or medicine. But the immense extension of knowledge in this our age, the growth of new sciences, makes it almost impossible for us to digest the available flavours and put them to use. ‘Holding a candle in your hand, I mean, you can throw the shadow of the retinal blood-vessels on the wall. It isn’t silent enough. It’s never dead still in there: never quiet enough for the trismegistus to be fed. All night long you can hear the rush of blood in the cerebral arteries. The loins of thinking. It starts you going back along the cogs of historical action, cause and effect. You can’t rest ever, you can’t give over and begin to scry. You climb through the physical body, softly parting the muscle-schemes to admit you — muscle striped and unstriped; you examine the coil ignition of the guts in the abdomen, the sweetbreads, the liver choked with refuse like a sink-filter, the bag of urine, the red unbuckled belt of the intestines, the soft horny corridor of the oesophagus, the glottis with its mucilage softer than the pouch of a kangaroo. What do I mean? You are searching for a co-ordinating scheme, the syntax of a Will which might stabilize everything and take the tragedy out of it. The sweat breaks out on your face, a cold panic as you feel the soft contraction and expansion of the viscera busy about their job, regardless of the man watching them who is yourself. A whole city of processes, a factory for the production of excrement, my goodness, a daily sacrifice. An offering to the toilet for every one you make to the altar. Where do they meet? Where is the correspondence? Outside in the darkness by the railway bridge the lover of this man waits for him with the same indescribable maggotry going on in her body and blood; wine swilling the conduits, the pylorus disgorging like a sucker, the incommensurable bacteriological world multiplying in every drop of semen, spittle, sputum, musk. He takes a spinal column in his arms, the ducts flooded with ammonia, the meninges exuding their pollen, the cornea glowing in its little crucible….’ He begins now that shocking boyish laughter, throwing back his head until the moonlight plays upon his perfect white teeth under the trimmed moustache. It was on such a night that our footsteps led us to Balthazar’s door, and seeing his light on, we knocked. The same night, on the old horn gramophone (with an emotion so deep that it was almost horror) I heard some amateur’s recording of the old poet reciting the lines which begin: Ideal voices and much beloved Of those who died, of those who are Now lost for us like the very dead; Sometimes within a dream they speak Or in the ticking brain a thought revives them…. These fugitive memories explain nothing, illuminate nothing: yet they return again and again when I think of my friends as if the very circumstances of our habits had become impregnated with what we then felt, the parts we then acted. The slither of tyres across the waves of the desert under a sky blue and frost-bound in winter; or in summer a fearful lunar bombardment which turned the sea to phosphorus — bodies shining like tin, crushed in electric bubbles; or walking to the last spit of sand near Montaza, sneaking through the dense green darkness of the King’s gardens, past the drowsy sentry, to where the force of the sea was suddenly crippled and the waves hobbled over the sand-bar. Or walking arm-in-arm down the long gallery, already gloomy with an unusual yellow winter fog. Her hand is cold so she has slipped it in my pocket. Today because she has no emotion whatsoever she tells me that she is in love with me — something she has always refused to do. At the long windows the rain hisses down suddenly. The dark eyes are cool and amused. A centre of blackness in things which trembles and changes shape. ‘I am afraid of Nessim these days. He has changed.’ We are standing before the Chinese paintings from the Louvre. ‘The meaning of space’ she says with disgust. There is no form, no pigment, no lens any more — simply a gaping hole into which the infinite drains slowly into the room: a blue gulf where the tiger’s body was, emptying itself into the preoccupied atmosphere of the studios. Afterwards we walk up the dark staircase to the top floor to see Sveva, to put on the gramophone and dance. The little model pretends that she is heartbroken because Pombal has cast her off after a ‘whirlwind romance’ lasting nearly a month. My friend himself is a little surprised at the force of an attachment which could make him think of one woman for so long a time. He has cut himself while shaving and his face looks grotesque with a moustache of surgical tape stuck to it. ‘It is a city of aberrations’ he repeats angrily. ‘I very nearly married her. It is infuriating. Thank God that the veil lifted when it did. It was seeing her naked in front of the mirror. All of a sudden I was disgusted — though I mentally admitted a sort of Renaissance dignity in the fallen breasts, the waxy skin, the sunken belly and the little peasant paws. All of a sudden I sat up in bed and said to myself “My God! She is an elephant in need of a coat of whitewash!” ’ Now Sveva is quietly sniffing into her handkerchief as she recounts the extravagant promises which Pombal has made her, and which will never be fulfilled. ‘It was a curious and dangerous attachment for an easy-going man’ (hear Pombal’s voice explaining). ‘It felt as if her cool murderous charity had eaten away my locomotive centres, paralysed my nervous system. Thank God I am free to concentrate on my work once more.’ He is troubled about his work. Rumours of his habits and general outlook have begun to get back to the Consulate. Lying in bed he plans a campaign which will get him crucified and promoted to a post with more scope. ‘I have decided that I simply must get my cross. I am going to give several skilfully graded parties. I shall count on you: I shall need a few shabby people at first in order to give my boss the feeling that he can patronize me socially. He is a complete parvenu of course and rose on his wife’s fortune and judicious smarming of powerful people. Worst of all he has a distinct inferiority complex about my own birth and family background. He has still not quite decided whether to do me down or not; but he has been taking soundings at the Quai D’Orsay to see how well padded I am there. Since my uncle died, of course, and my godfather the bishop was involved in that huge scandal over the brothel in Reims, I find myself rather less steady on my feet. I shall have to make the brute feel protective, feel that I need encouraging and bringing out. Pouagh! First a rather shabby party with one celebrity only. Oh, why did I join the service? Why have I not a small fortune of my own?’ Hearing all this in Sveva’s artificial tears and then walking down the draughty staircase again arm in arm thinking not of Sveva, not of Pombal, but of the passage in Arnauti where he says of Justine: ‘Like women who think by biological precept and without the help of reason. To such women how fatal an error it is to give oneself; there is simply a small chewing noise, as when the cat reaches the backbone of the mouse.’ The wet pavements are slick underfoot from the rain, and the air has become dense with the moisture so ardently longed for by the trees in the public gardens, the statues and other visitants. Justine is away upon another tack, walking slowly in her glorious silk frock with the dark lined cape, head hanging. She stops in front of a lighted shop-window and takes my arms so that I face her, looking into my eyes: ‘I am thinking about going away’ she says in a quiet puzzled voice. ‘Something is happening to Nessim and I don’t know what it is as yet.’ Then suddenly the tears come into her eyes and she says: ‘For the first time I am afraid, and I don’t know why.’ I have been looking through my papers tonight. Some have been converted to kitchen uses, some the child has destroyed. This form of censorship pleases me for it has the indifference of the natural world to the constructions of art — an indifference I am beginning to share. Alter all, what is the good of a fine metaphor for Melissa when she lies buried deep as any mummy in the shallow tepid sand of the black estuary? But those papers I guard with care are the three volumes in which Justine kept her diary, as well as the folio which records Nessim’s madness. Nessim noticed them when I was leaving and nodded as he said: ‘Take these, yes, read them. There is much about us all in them. They should help you to support the idea of Justine without flinching, as I have had to do.’ This was at the Summer Palace after Melissa’s deaths when he still believed Justine would return to him. I think often, and never without a certain fear, of Nessim’s love for Justine. What could be more comprehensive, more surely founded in itself? It coloured his unhappiness with a kind of ecstasy, the joyful wounds which you’d think to meet in saints and not in mere lovers. Yet None touch of humour would have saved him from such dreadful comprehensive suffering. It is easy to criticize, I know. I know.Your fortunes having failed you now,Balthazar (1958) Part II Chapter 4Balthazar (1958) Part III Chapter 2Chapter IX Could ever have been or hoped to be —Justine (1957) Part III Chapter 2***** I have had many such glimpses of Justine at different times, and of course I knew her well by sight long before we met: our city does not permit anonymity to any with incomes of over two hundred pounds a year. I see her sitting alone by the sea, reading a newspaper and eating an apple; or in the vestibule of the Cecil Hotel, among the dusty palms, dressed in a sheath of silver drops, holding her magnificent fur at her back as a peasant holds his coat — her long forefinger hooked through the tag. Nessim has stopped at the door of the ballroom which is flooded with light and music. He has missed her. Under the palms, in a deep alcove, sit a couple of old men playing chess. Justine has stopped to watch them. She knows nothing of the game, but the aura of stillness and concentration which brims the alcove fascinates her. She stands there between the deaf players and the world of music for a long time, as if uncertain into which to plunge. Finally Nessim comes softly to take her arm and they stand together for a while, she watching the players, he watching her. At last she goes softly, reluctantly, circumspectly into the lighted world with a little sigh. Then in other circumstances, less creditable no doubt to herself, or to the rest of us: how touching, how pliantly feminine this most masculine and resourceful of women could be. She could not help but remind me of that race of terrific queens which left behind them the ammoniac smell of their incestuous loves to hover like a cloud over the Alexandrian subconscious. The giant man-eating cats like Arsinoe were her true siblings. Yet behind the acts of Justine lay something else, born of a later tragic philosophy in which morals must be weighed in the balance against rogue personality. She was the victim of truly heroic doubts. Nevertheless I can still see a direct connection between the picture of Justine bending over the dirty sink with the foetus in it, and poor Sophia of Valentinus who died for a love as perfect as it was wrong-headed.Chapter IIIWhen suddenly at darkest midnight heard,Chapter XII chapter VIIIOn these spring mornings while the island slowly uncurls from the sea in the light of an early sun I walk about on the deserted beaches, trying to recover my memories of the time spent in Upper Egypt. It is strange when everything about Alexandria is so vivid that I can recover so little of that lost period. Or perhaps it is not so strange — for compared to the city life I had lived my new life was dull and uneventful. I remember the back-breaking sweat of school work: walks in the flat rich fields with their bumper crops feeding upon dead men’s bones: the black silt-fed Nile moving corpulently through the Delta to the sea: the bilharziaridden peasantry whose patience and nobility shone through their rags like patents of dispossessed royalty: village patriarchs intoning: the blind cattle turning the slow globe of their waterwheels, blind-folded against monotony — how small can a world become? Throughout this period I read nothing, thought nothing, was nothing. The fathers of the school were kindly and left me alone in my spare time, sensing perhaps my distaste for the cloth, for the apparatus of the Holy Office. The children of course were a torment — but then what teacher of sensibility does not echo in his heart the terrible words of Tolstoy: ‘Whenever I enter a school and see a multitude of children, ragged thin and dirty but with their clear eyes and sometimes angelic expressions, I am seized with restlessness and terror, as though I saw people drowning’? Unreal as all correspondence seemed, I kept up a desultory contact with Melissa whose letters arrived punctually. Clea wrote once or twice, and surprisingly enough old Scobie who appeared to be rather annoyed that he should miss me as much as he obviously did. His letters were full of fantastic animadversion against Jews (who were always referred to jeeringly as ‘snipcocks’) and, surprisingly enough, to passive pederasts (whom he labelled ‘Herms’, i.e. Hermaphrodites). I was not surprised to learn that the Secret Service had gravelled him, and he was now able to spend most of the day in bed with what he called a ‘bottle of wallop’ at his elbow. But he was lonely, hence his correspondence. These letters were useful to me. My feeling of unreality had grown to such a pitch that at times I distrusted my own memory, finding it hard to believe that there had ever been such a town as Alexandria. Letters were a lifeline attaching me to an existence in which the greater part of myself was no longer engaged. As soon as my work was finished I locked myself in my room and crawled into bed; beside it lay the green jade box full of hashish-loaded cigarettes. If my way of life was noticed or commented upon at least I left no loophole for criticism in my work. It would be hard to grudge me simply an inordinate taste for solitude. Father Racine, it is true, made one or two attempts to rouse me. He was the most sensitive and intelligent of them all and perhaps felt that my friendship might temper his own intellectual loneliness. I was sorry for him and regretted in a way not being able to respond to these overtures. But I was afflicted by a gradually increasing numbness, a mental apathy which made me shrink from contact. Once or twice I accompanied him for a walk along the river (he was a botanist) and heard him talk lightly and brilliantly on his own subject. But my taste for the landscape, its flatness, its unresponsiveness to the seasons had gone stale. The sun seemed to have scorched up my appetite for everything — food, company and even speech. I preferred to lie in bed staring at the ceiling and listening to the noises around me in the teachers’ block: Father Gaudier sneezing, opening and shutting drawers; Father Racine playing a few phrases over and over again on his flute; the ruminations of the organ mouldering away among its harmonies in the dark chapel. The heavy cigarettes soothed the mind, emptying it of every preoccupation. One day Gaudier called to me as I was crossing the close and said that someone wished to speak to me on the telephone. I could hardly comprehend, hardly believe my ears. After so long a silence who would telephone? Nessim perhaps? The telephone was in the Head’s study, a forbidding room full of elephantine furniture and fine bindings. The receiver, crepitating slightly, lay on the blotter before him. He squinted slightly and said with distaste ‘It is a woman from Alexandria.’ I thought it must be Melissa but to my surprise Clea’s voice suddenly swam up out of the incoherence of memory: ‘I am speaking from the Greek hospital. Melissa is here, very ill indeed. Perhaps even dying.’ Undeniably my surprise and confusion emerged as anger. ‘But she would not let me tell you before. She didn’t want you to see her ill — so thin. But I simply must now. Can you come quickly? She will see you now.’ In my mind’s eye I could see the jogging night train with its interminable stoppings and startings in dust-blown towns and villages — the dirt and the heat. It would take all night. I turned to Gaudier and asked his permission to absent myself for the whole week-end. ‘In exceptional cases we do grant permission’ he said thoughtfully. ‘If you were going to be married, for example, or if someone was seriously ill.’ I swear that the idea of marrying Melissa had not entered my head until he spoke the words. There was another memory, too, which visited me now as I packed my cheap suitcase. The rings, Cohen’s rings, were still in my stud-box wrapped in brown paper. I stood for a while looking at them and wondering if inanimate objects also had a destiny as human beings have. These wretched rings, I thought — why, it was as if they had been anxiously waiting here all the time like human beings; waiting for some shabby fulfilment on the finger of someone trapped into a mariage de convenance. I put the poor things in my pocket. Far off events, transformed by memory, acquire a burnished brilliance because they are seen in isolation, divorced from the details of before and after, the fibres and wrappings of time. The actors, too, suffer a transformation; they sink slowly deeper and deeper into the ocean of memory like weighted bodies, finding at every level a new assessment, a new evaluation in the human heart. It was not anguish I felt so much at Melissa’s defection, it was rage, a purposeless fury based, I imagine, in contrition. The enormous vistas of the future which in all my vagueness I had nevertheless peopled with images of her had gone by default now; and it was only now that I realized to what an extent I had been nourishing myself on them. It had all been there like a huge trust fund, an account upon which I would one day draw. Now I was suddenly bankrupt. Balthazar was waiting for me at the station in his little car. He pressed my hand with rough and ready sympathy as he said, in a matter-of-fact voice: ‘She died last night poor girl. I gave her morphia to help her away. Well.’ He sighed and glanced sideways at me. ‘A pity you are not in the habit of shedding tears. .a aurait été un soulagement.’ ‘Soulagement grotesque.’ ‘Approfondir les émotions … les purger.’ ‘Tais-toi, Balthazar, shut up.’ ‘She loved you, I suppose.’ ‘Je le sais.’ ‘Elle parlait de vous sans cesse. Cléa a été avec elle toute la semaine.’ ‘Assez.’ Never had the city looked so entrancing in that soft morning air. I took the light wind from the harbour on my stubbled cheek like the kiss of an old friend. Mareotis glinted here and there between the palm-tops, between the mud huts and the factories. The shops along Rue Fuad seemed to have all the glitter and novelty of Paris. I had, I realized, become a complete provincial in Upper Egypt. Alexandria seemed a capital city. In the trim garden nurses were rolling their prams and children their hoops. The trams squashed and clicked and rattled. ‘There is something else’ Balthazar was saying as we raced along. ‘Melissa’s child, Nessim’s child. But I suppose you know all about it. It is out at the summer villa. A little girl.’ I could not take all this in, so drunk was I on the beauty of the city which I had almost forgotten. Outside the Municipality the professional scribes sat at their stools, inkhorns, pens and stamped paper beside them. They scratched themselves, chattering amiably. We climbed the low bluff on which the hospital stood after threading the long bony spine of the Canopic Way. Balthazar was still talking as we left the lift and started to negotiate the long white corridors of the second floor. ‘A coolness has sprung up between Nessim and myself. When Melissa came back he refused to see her out of a sort of disgust which I found inhuman, hard to comprehend. I don’t know…. As for the child he is trying to get it adopted. He has come almost to hate it, I suppose. He thinks Justine will never come back to him so long as he has Melissa’s child. For my part’ he added more slowly ‘I look at it this way: by one of those fearful displacements of which only love seems capable the child Justine lost was given back by Nessim not to her but to Melissa. Do you see?’ The sense of ghostly familiarity which was growing upon me now was due to the fact that we were approaching the little room in which I had visited Cohen when he was dying. Of course Melissa must be lying in the same narrow iron bed in the corner by the wall. It would be just like real life to imitate art at this point. There were some nurses in the room busy whispering round the bed, arranging screens; but at a word from Balthazar they scattered and disappeared. We stood arm in arm in the doorway for a moment looking in. Melissa looked pale and somehow wizened. They had bound up her jaw with tape and closed the eyes so that she looked as if she had fallen asleep during a beauty treatment. I was glad her eyes were closed; I had been dreading their glance. I was left alone with her for a while in the huge silence of that whitewashed ward and all of a sudden I found myself suffering from acute embarrassment. It is hard to know how to behave with the dead; their enormous deafness and rigidity is so studied. One becomes awkward as if in the presence of royalty. I coughed behind my hand and walked up and down the ward stealing little glances at her out of the corner of my eye, remembering the confusion which had once beset me when she called upon me with a gift of flowers. I would have liked to slip Cohen’s rings on her fingers but they had already swathed her body in bandages and her arms were bound stiffly to her sides. In this climate bodies decompose so quickly that they have to be almost unceremoniously rushed to the grave. I said ‘Melissa’ twice in an uncertain whisper bending my lips to her ear. Then I lit a cigarette and sat down beside her on a chair to make a long study of her face, comparing it to all the other faces of Melissa which thronged my memory and had established their identity there. She bore no resemblance to any of them — and yet she set them off, concluded them. This white little face was the last term of a series. Beyond this point there was a locked door. At such times one gropes about for a gesture which will match the terrible marble repose of the will which one reads on the faces of the dead. There is nothing in the whole ragbag of human emotions. ‘Terrible are the four faces of love,’ wrote Arnauti in another context. I mentally told the figure on the bed that I would take the child if Nessim would part with her, and this silent agreement made I kissed the high pale forehead once and left her to the ministrations of those who would parcel her up for the grave. I was glad to leave the room, to leave a silence so elaborate and forbidding. I suppose we writers are cruel people. The dead do not care. It is the living who might be spared if we could quarry the message which lies buried in the heart of all human experience. (‘In the old days the sailing ships in need of ballast would collect tortoises from the mainland and fill great barrels with them, alive. Those that survived the terrible journey might be sold as pets for children. The putrefying bodies of the rest were emptied into the East India Docks. There were plenty more where they came from.’) I walked lightly effortlessly about the town like an escaped prisoner. Mnemjian had violet tears in his violet eyes as he embraced me warmly. He settled down to shave me himself, his every gesture expressing an emollient sympathy and tenderness. Outside on the pavements drenched with sunlight walked the citizens of Alexandria each locked into a world of personal relationships and fears, yet each seeming to my eyes infinitely remote from those upon which my own thoughts and feelings were busy. The city was smiling with a heartbreaking indifference, a cocotte refreshed by the darkness. There remained only one thing to do now, to see Nessim. I was relieved to learn that he was due to come into town that evening. Here again time had another surprise in store for me for the Nessim who lived in my memories had changed. He had aged like a woman — his lips and face had both broadened. He walked now with his weight distributed comfortably on the flat of his feet as if his body had already submitted to a dozen pregnancies. The queer litheness of his step had gone. Moreover he radiated now a flabby charm mixed with concern which made him at first all but unrecognizable. A foolish authoritativeness had replaced the delightful old diffidence. He was just back from Kenya. I had hardly time to capture and examine these new impressions when he suggested that we should visit the Etoile together — the night-club where Melissa used to dance. It had changed hands, he added, as if this somehow excused our visiting it on the very day of her funeral. Shocked and surprised as I was I agreed without hesitation, prompted both by curiosity as to his own feelings and a desire to discuss the transaction which concerned the child — this mythical child. When we walked down the narrow airless stairway into the white light of the place a cry went up and the girls came running to him from every corner like cockroaches. It appeared that he was well known now as an habitué. He opened his arms to them with a shout of laughter, turning to me for approval as he did so. Then taking their hands one after another he pressed them voluptuously to the breast pocket of his coat so that they might feel the outlines of the thick wallet he now carried, stuffed with banknotes. This gesture at once reminded me of how, when I was accosted one night in the dark streets of the city by a pregnant woman and trying to make my escape, she took my hand, as if to give me an idea of the pleasure she was offering (or perhaps to emphasize her need) and pressed it upon her swollen abdomen. Now, watching Nessim, I suddenly recalled the tremulous beat of the foetal heart in the eighth month. It is difficult to describe how unspeakably strange I found it to sit beside this vulgar double of the Nessim I had once known. I studied him keenly but he avoided my eye and confined his conversation to laboured commonplaces which he punctuated by yawns that were one by one tapped away behind ringed fingers. Here and there, however, behind this new fa.ade stirred a hint of the old diffidence, but buried — as a fine physique may be buried in a mountain of fat. In the washroom Zoltan the waiter confided in me: ‘He has become truly himself since his wife went away. All Alexandria says so.’ The truth was that he had become like all Alexandria. Late that night the whim seized him to drive me to Montaza in the late moonlight; we sat in the car for a long time in silence, smoking, gazing out at the moonlit waves hobbling across the sand bar. It was during this silence that I apprehended the truth about him. He had not really changed inside. He had merely adopted a new mask.One plot of ground you’ve ruined its worthTo 众乐三分快3彩票 ***** Rue Bab-el-Mandeb, Rue Abou-el-Dardar, Minet-el-Bassal (streets slippery with discarded fluff from the cotton marts) Nouzha (the rose-garden, some remembered kisses) or bus stops with haunted names like Saba Pacha, Mazloum; Zizinia Bacos, Schutz, Gianaclis. A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants. ***** One of the consequences of frequenting the great house was that I began to be noticed and to receive the attention of those who considered Nessim influential and presumed that if he spent his time with me I must also, in some undiscovered fashion, be either rich or distinguished. Pombal came to my room one afternoon while I was dozing and sat on my bed: ‘Look here’ he said, ‘you are beginning to be noticed. Of course a cicisbeo is a normal enough figure in Alexandrian life, but things are going to become socially very boring for you if you go out with those two so much. Look!’ And he handed me a large and florid piece of pasteboard with a printed invitation on it for cocktails at the French Consulate. I read it uncomprehendingly. Pombal said: ‘This is very silly. My chief, the Consul-General, is impassionated by Justine. All attempts to meet her have failed so far. His spies tell him that you have an entree into the family circle, indeed that you are … I know, I know. But he is hoping to displace you in her affections.’ He laughed heavily. Nothing sounded more preposterous to me at this time. ‘Tell the Consul-General’ I said … and uttered a forcible remark or two which caused Pombal to click his tongue reprovingly and shake his head. ‘I would love to’ he said ‘but, mon cher, there is a Pecking Order among diplomats as there is among poultry. I depend upon him for my little cross.’ Heaving his bulk round he next produced from his pocket a battered little yellow-covered novelette and placed it on my knees. ‘Here is something to interest you. Justine was married when she was very young to a French national, Albanian by descent, a writer. This little book is about her — a post-mortem on her; it is quite decently done.’ I turned the novel over in my hands. It was entitled Moeurs and it was by a certain Jacob Arnauti. The flyleaf showed it to have enjoyed numerous reprintings in the early thirties. ‘How do you know this?’ I asked, and Georges winked a large, heavy-lidded reptilian eye as he replied. ‘We have been making enquiries. The Consul can think of nothing but Justine, and the whole staff has been busy for weeks collecting information about her. Vive la France!’ When he had gone I started turning the pages of Moeurs, still half-dazed by sleep. It was very well written indeed, in the first person singular, and was a diary of Alexandrian life as seen by a foreigner in the early thirties. The author of the diary is engaged on research for a novel he proposes to do — and the day to day account of his life in Alexandria is accurate and penetrating; but what arrested me was the portrait of a young Jewess he meets and marries: takes to Europe: divorces. The foundering of this marriage on their return to Egypt is done with a savage insight that throws into relief the character of Claudia, his wife. And what astonished and interested me was to see in her a sketch of Justine I recognized without knowing: a younger, a more disoriented Justine, to be sure. But unmistakable. Indeed whenever I read the book, and this was often, I was in the habit of restoring her name to the text. It fitted with an appalling verisimilitude. They met, where I had first seen her, in the gaunt vestibule of the Cecil, in a mirror. ‘In the vestibule of this moribund hotel the palms splinter and refract their motionless fronds in the gilt-edged mirrors. Only the rich can afford to stay permanently — those who live on in the guilt-edged security of a pensionable old age. I am looking for cheaper lodgings. In the lobby tonight a small circle of Syrians, heavy in their dark suits, and yellow in their scarlet tarbushes, solemnly sit. Their hippopotamus-like womenfolk, lightly moustached, have jingled off to bed in their jewellery. The men’s curious soft oval faces and effeminate voices are busy upon jewel-boxes — for each of these brokers carries his choicest jewels with him in a casket; and after dinner the talk has turned to male jewellery. It is all the Mediterranean world has left to talk about; a self-interest, a narcissism which comes from sexual exhaustion expressing itself in the possessive symbol: so that meeting a man you are at once informed what he is worth, and meeting his wife you are told in the same breathless whisper what her dowry was. They croon like eunuchs over the jewels, turning them this way and that in the light to appraise them. They flash their sweet white teeth in little feminine smiles. They sigh. A white-robed waiter with a polished ebony face brings coffee. A silver hinge flies open upon heavy white (like the thighs of Egyptian women) cigarettes each with its few flecks of hashish. A few grains of drunkenness before bedtime. I have been thinking about the girl I met last night in the mirror: dark on marble-ivory white: glossy black hair: deep suspiring eyes in which one’s glances sink because they are nervous, curious, turned to sexual curiosity. She pretends to be a Greek, but she must be Jewish. It takes a Jew to smell out a Jew; and neither of us has the courage to confess our true race. I have told her I am French. Sooner or later we shall find one another out. ‘The women of the foreign communities here are more beautiful than elsewhere. Fear, insecurity dominates them. They have the illusion of foundering in the ocean of blackness all around. This city has been built like a dyke to hold back the flood of African darkness; but the soft-footed blacks have already started leaking into the European quarters: a sort of racial osmosis is going on. To be happy one would have to be a Moslem, an Egyptian woman — absorbent, soft, lax, overblown; given to veneers; their waxen skins turn citron-yellow or melon-green in the naphtha-flares. Hard bodies like boxes. Breasts apple-green and hard — a reptilian coldness of the outer flesh with its bony outposts of toes and fingers. Their feelings are buried in the pre-conscious. In love they give out nothing of themselves, having no self to give, but enclose themselves around you in an agonized reflection — an agony of unexpressed yearning that is at the opposite pole from tenderness, pleasure. For centuries now they have been shut in a stall with the oxen, masked, circumcised. Fed in darkness on jams and scented fats they have become tuns of pleasure, rolling on paper-white blue-veined legs. ‘Walking through the Egyptian quarter the smell of flesh changes — ammoniac, sandal-wood, saltpetre, spice, fish. She would not let me take her home — no doubt because she was ashamed of her house in these slums. Nevertheless she spoke wonderfully about her childhood. I have taken a few notes: returning home to find her father breaking walnuts with a little hammer on the table by the light of an oil-lamp. I can see him. He is no Greek but a Jew from Odessa in fur cap with greasy ringlets. Also the kiss of the Berberin, the enormous rigid penis like an obsidian of the ice age; leaning to take her underlip between beautiful unfiled teeth. We have left Europe behind here and are moving towards a new spiritual latitude. She gave herself to me with such contempt that I was for the first time in my life surprised at the quality of her anxiety; it was as if she were desperate, swollen with disaster. And yet these women belonging to these lost communities have a desperate bravery very different to ours. They have explored the flesh to a degree which makes them true foreigners to us. How am I to write about all this? Will she come, or has she disappeared forever? The Syrians are going to bed with little cries, like migrating birds.’ She comes. They talk. (‘Under the apparent provincial sophistication and mental hardness I thought I detected an inexperience, not of the world to be sure but of society. I was interesting, I realized, as a foreigner with good manners — and she turned upon me now the shy-wise regard of an owl from those enormous brown eyes whose faintly bluish eyeballs and long lashes threw into relief the splendour of the pupils, glittering and candid.’) It may be imagined with what breathless, painful anxiety I first read this account of a love-affair with Justine; and truly after many re-readings the book, which I now know almost by heart, has always remained for me a document, full of personal pain and astonishment. ‘Our love’ he writes in another place ‘was like a syllogism to which the true premises were missing: I mean regard. It was a sort of mental possession which trapped us both and set us to drift upon the shallow tepid waters of Mareotis like spawning frogs, a prey to instincts based in lassitude and heat…. No, that is not the way to put it. It is not very just. Let me try again with these infirm and unstable tools to sketch Claudia. Where shall we begin? ‘Well, her talent for situations had served her well for twenty years of an erratic and unpunctual life. Of her origins I learned little, save that she had been very poor. She gave me the impression of someone engaged in giving a series of savage caricatures of herself — but this is common to most lonely people who feel that their true self can find no correspondence in another. The speed with which she moved from one milieu to another, from one man, place, date to another, was staggering. But her instability had a magnificence that was truly arresting. The more I knew her the less predictable she seemed; the only constant was the frantic struggle to break through the barrier of her autism. And every action ended in error, guilt, repentance. How often I remember — “Darling, this time it will be different, I promise you.” ‘Later, when we went abroad: at the Adlon, the pollen of the spotlights playing upon the Spanish dancers fuming in the smoke of a thousand cigarettes; by the dark waters of Buda, her tears dropping hotly among the quietly flowing dead leaves; riding on the gaunt Spanish plains, the silence pock-marked by the sound of our horses’ hooves: by the Mediterranean lying on some forgotten reef. It was never her betrayals that upset me — for with Justine the question of male pride in possession became somehow secondary. I was bewitched by the illusion that I could really come to know her; but I see now that she was not really a woman but the incarnation of Woman admitting no ties in the society we inhabited. “I hunt everywhere for a life that is worth living. Perhaps if I could die or go mad it would provide a focus for all the feelings I have which find no proper outlet. The doctor I loved told me I was a nymphomaniac — but there is no gluttony or self-indulgence in my pleasure, Jacob. It is purely wasted from that point of view. The waste, my dear, the waste! You speak of taking pleasure sadly, like the puritans do. Even there you are unjust to me. I take it tragically, and if my medical friends want a compound word to describe the heartless creature I seem, why they will have to admit that what I lack of heart I make up in soul. That is where the trouble lies.” These are not, you see, the sort of distinctions of which women are usually capable. It was as if somehow her world lacked a dimension, and love had become turned inwards into a kind of idolatry. At first I mistook this for a devastating and self-consuming egotism, for she seemed so ignorant of the little prescribed loyalties which constitute the foundations of affection between men and women. This sounds pompous, but never mind. But now, remembering the panics and exaltations which she endured, I wonder whether I was right. I am thinking of those tiresome, dramas — scenes in furnished bedrooms, with Justine turning on the taps to drown the noise of her own crying. Walking up and down, hugging her arms in her armpits, muttering to herself, she seemed to smoulder like a tar-barrel on the point of explosion. My indifferent health and poor nerves — but above all my European sense of humour — seemed at such times to goad her beyond endurance. Suffering, let us say, from some imagined slight at a dinner-party she would patrol the strip of carpet at the foot of the bed like a panther. If I fell asleep she might become enraged and shake my by the shoulders, crying: “Get up, Jacob, I am suffering, can’t you see?” When I declined to take part in this charade she would perhaps break something upon the dressing-table in order to have an excuse to ring the bell. How many fearful faces of night-maids have I not seen confronted by this wild figure saying with a terrifying politeness: “Oblige me by clearing up the dressing-table. I have clumsily broken something.” Then she would sit smoking cigarette after cigarette. “I know exactly what this is” I told her once. “I expect that every time you are unfaithful to me and consumed by guilt you would like to provoke me to beat you up and give a sort of remission for your sins. My dear, I simply refuse to pander to your satisfactions. You must carry your own burdens. You are trying hard to get me to use a stockwhip on you. But I only pity you.” This, I must confess, made her very thoughtful for a moment and involuntarily her hands strayed to touch the smooth surface of the legs she had so carefully shaved that afternoon…. ‘Latterly, too, when I began to weary of her, I found this sort of abuse of the emotions so tiresome that I took to insulting her and laughing at her. One night I called her a tiresome hysterical Jewess. Bursting into those terrible hoarse sobs which I so often heard that even now in memory the thought of them (their richness, their melodious density) hurts me, she flung herself down on her own bed to lie, limbs loose and flaccid, played upon by the currents of her hysteria like jets from a hose. ‘Did this sort of thing happen so often or is it that my memory has multiplied it? Perhaps it was only once, and the echoes have misled me. At any rate I seem to hear so often the noise she made unstopping the bottle of sleeping tablets, and the small sound of the tablets falling into the glass. Even when I was dozing I would count, to see that she did not take too many. All this was much later, of course; in the early days I would ask her to come into my bed and self-conscious, sullen, cold, she would obey me. I was foolish enough to think that I could thaw her out and give her the physical peace upon which — I thought — mental peace must depend. I was wrong. There was some unresolved inner knot which she wished to untie and which was quite beyond my skill as a lover or a friend. Of course. Of course. I knew as much as could be known of the psychopathology of hysteria at that time. But there was some other quality which I thought I could detect behind all this. In a way she was not looking for life but for some integrating revelation which would give it point. ‘I have already described how we met — in the long mirror of the Cecil, before the open door of the ballroom, on a night of carnival. The first words we spoke were spoken, symbolically enough, in the mirror. She was there with a man who resembled a cuttle-fish and who waited while she examined her dark face attentively. I stopped to adjust an unfamiliar bow-tie. She had a hungry natural candour which seemed proof against any suggestion of forwardness as she smiled and said: “There is never enough light.” To which I responded without thought: “For women perhaps. We men are less exigent.” We smiled and I passed her on my way to the ballroom, ready to walk out of her mirror-life forever, without a thought. Later the hazards of one of those awful English dances, called the Paul Jones I believe, left me facing her for a waltz. We spoke a few disjointed words — I dance badly; and here I must confess that her beauty made no impression on me. It was only later when she began her trick of drawing hasty ill-defined designs round my character, throwing my critical faculties into disorder by her sharp penetrating stabs; ascribing to me qualities which she invented on the spur of the moment out of that remorseless desire to capture my attention. Women must attack writers — and from the moment she learned I was a writer she felt disposed to make herself interesting by dissecting me. All this would have been most flattering to my amour-propre had some of her observations been further from the mark. But she was acute, and I was too feeble to resist this sort of game — the mental ambuscades which constitute the opening gambits of a flirtation. ‘From here I remember nothing more until that night — that marvellous summer night on the moon-drenched balcony above the sea with Justine pressing a warm hand on my mouth to stop me talking and saying something like: “Quick. Engorge-moi. From desire to revulsion — let’s get it over.” She had, it seemed, already exhausted me in her own imagination. But the words were spoken with such weariness and humility — who could forbear to love her? ‘It is idle to go over all this in a medium as unstable as words. I remember the edges and corners of so many meetings, and I see a sort of composite Justine, concealing a ravenous hunger for information, for power through self-knowledge, under a pretence of feeling. Sadly I am driven to wonder whether I ever really moved her — or existed simply as a laboratory in which she could work. She learned much from me: to read and reflect. She had achieved neither before. I even persuaded her to keep a diary in order to clarify her far from commonplace thoughts. But perhaps what I took to be love was merely a gratitude. Among the thousand discarded people, impressions, subjects of study — somewhere I see myself drifting, floating, reaching out arms. Strangely enough it was never in the lover that I really met her but in the writer. Here we clasped hands — in that amoral world of suspended judgements where curiosity and wonder seem greater than order — the syllogistic order imposed by the mind. This is where one waits in silence, holding one’s breath, lest the pane should cloud over. I watched over her like this. I was mad about her. ‘She had of course many secrets being a true child of the Mouseion, and I had to guard myself desperately against jealousy or the desire to intrude upon the hidden side of her life. I was almost successful in this and if I spied upon her it was really from curiosity to know what she might be doing or thinking when she was not with me. There was, for example, a woman of the town whom she visited frequently, and whose influence on her was profound enough to make me suspect an illicit relationship; there was also a man to whom she wrote long letters, though as far as I could see he lived in the city. Perhaps he was bedridden? I made inquiries, but my spies always brought me back uninteresting information. The woman was a fortune-teller, elderly, a widow. The man to whom she wrote — her pen shrilling across the cheap notepaper — turned out to be a doctor who held a small part-time post on a local consulate. He was not bedridden; but he was a homosexual, and dabbled in hermetic philosophy which is now so much in vogue. Once she left a particularly clear impression on my blotting-pad and in the mirror (the mirror again!) I was able to read:—”my life there is a sort of Unhealed Place as you call it which I try to keep full of people, accidents, diseases, anything that comes to hand. You are right when you say it is an apology for better living, wiser living. But while I respect your disciplines and your knowledge I feel that if I am ever going to come to terms with myself I must work through the dross in my own character and burn it up. Anyone could solve my problem artificially by placing it in the lap of a priest. We Alexandrians have mere pride than that — and more respect for religion. It would not be fair to God, my dear sir, and whoever else I fail (I see you smile) I am determined not to fail Him whoever He is.” ‘It seemed to me then that if this was part of a love-letter it was the kind of love-letter one could only address to a saint; and again I was struck, despite the clumsiness and incorrectness of the writing, by the fluency with which she could dissociate between ideas of different categories. I began to see her in an altered light; as somebody who might well destroy herself in an excess of wrongheaded courage and forfeit the happiness which she, in common with all the rest of us, desired and lived only to achieve. These thoughts had the effect of qualifying my love for her, and I found myself filled sometimes by disgust for her. But what made me afraid was that after quite a short time I found to my horror that I could not live without her. I tried. I took short journeys away from her. But without her I found life full of consuming boredom which was quite insupportable. I had fallen in love. The very thought filled me with an inexplicable despair and disgust. It was as if I unconsciously realized that in her I had met my evil genius. To come to Alexandria heart-whole and to discover an amor fati — it was a stroke of ill-luck which neither my health nor my nerves felt capable of supporting. Looking in the mirror I reminded myself that I had turned forty and already there was a white hair or two at my temples! I thought once of trying to end this attachment, but in every smile and kiss of Justine I felt my resolutions founder. Yet with her one felt all around the companionship of shadows which invaded life and filled it with a new resonance. Feeling so rich in ambiguities could not be resolved by a sudden act of the will. I had at times the impression of a woman whose every kiss was a blow struck on the side of death. When I discovered, for example (what I knew) that she had been repeatedly unfaithful to me, and at times when I had felt myself to be closest to her, I felt nothing very sharp in outline; rather a sinking numbness such as one might feel on leaving a friend in hospital, to enter a lift and fall six floors in silence, standing beside a uniformed automaton whose breathing one could hear. The silence of my room deafened me. And then, thinking about it, gathering my whole mind about the fact I realized that what she had done bore no relation to myself: it was an attempt to free herself for me: to give me what she knew belonged to me. I cannot say that this sounded any better to my ears than a sophistry. Nevertheless my heart seemed to know the truth of this and dictated a tactful silence to me to which she responded with a new warmth, a new ardour, of gratitude added to love. This again disgusted me somewhat. ‘Ah! but if you had seen her then as I did in her humbler, gentler moments, remembering that she was only a child, you would not have reproached me for cowardice. In the early morning, sleeping in my arms, her hair blown across that smiling mouth, she looked like no other woman I could remember: indeed like no woman at all, but some marvellous creature caught in the Pleistocene stage of her development. And later again, thinking about her as I did and have done these past few years I was surprised to find that though I loved her wholly and knew that I should never love anyone else — yet I shrank from the thought that she might return. The two ideas co-existed in my mind without displacing one another. I thought to myself with relief “Good. I have really loved at last. That is something achieved”; and to this my alter ego added: “Spare me the pangs of love requited with Justine.” This enigmatic polarity of feeling was something I found completely unexpected. If this was love then it was a variety of the plant which I have never seen before. (“Damn the word” said Justine once. “I would like to spell it backwards as you say the Elizabethans did God. Call it evol and make it a part of ‘evolution’ or ‘revolt’. Never use the word to me.”)’***** At that epoch, Georges-Gaston Pombal, a minor consular official, shares a small flat with me in the Rue Nebi Daniel. He is a rare figure among the diplomats in that he appears to possess a vertebral column. For him the tiresome treadmill of protocol and entertainment — so like a surrealist nightmare — is full of exotic charm. He sees diplomacy through the eyes of a Douanier Rousseau. He indulges himself with it but never allows it to engulf what remains of his intellect. I suppose the secret of his success is his tremendous idleness, which almost approaches the supernatural. He sits at his desk in the Consulate-General covered by a perpetual confetti of pasteboard cards bearing the names of his colleagues. He is a pegamoid sloth of a man, a vast slow fellow given to prolonged afternoon siestas and Crébillon fils. His handkerchiefs smell wondrously of Eau de Portugal. His most favoured topic of conversation is women, and he must speak from experience for the succession of visitors to the little flat is endless, and rarely does one see the same face twice. ‘To a Frenchman the love here is interesting. They act before they reflect. When the time comes to doubt, to suffer remorse, it is too hot, nobody has the energy. It lacks finesse, this animalism, but it suits me. I’ve worn out my heart and head with love, and want to be left alone — above all, mon cher, from this Judeo-Coptic mania for dissection, for analysing the subject. I want to return to my farmhouse in Normandy heart-whole.’ For long periods of the winter he is away on leave and I have the little dank flat to myself and sit up late, correcting exercise books, with only the snoring Hamid for company. In this last year I have reached a dead-end in myself. I lack the will-power to do anything with my life, to better my position by hard work, to write: even to make love. I do not know what has come over me. This is the first time I have experienced a real failure of the will to survive. Occasionally I turn over a bundle of manuscript or an old proof-copy of a novel or book of poems with disgusted inattention; with sadness, like someone studying an old passport. From time to time one of Georges’ numerous girls strays into my net by calling at the flat when he is not there, and the incident serves for a while to sharpen my taedium vitae. Georges is thoughtful and generous in these matters for, before going away (knowing how poor I am) he often pays one of the Syrians from Golfo’s tavern in advance, and orders her to spend an occasional night in the flat en disponibilité, as he puts it. Her duty is to cheer me up, by no means an enviable task especially as on the surface there is nothing to indicate lack of cheerfulness on my part. Small talk has become a useful form of automatism which goes on long after one has lost the need to talk; if necessary I can even make love with relief, as one does not sleep very well here: but without passion, without attention. Some of these encounters with poor exhausted creatures driven to extremity by physical want are interesting, even touching, but I have lost any interest in sorting my emotions so that they exist for me like dimensionless figures flashed on a screen. ‘There are only three things to be done with a woman’ said Clea once. ‘You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.’ I was experiencing a failure in all these domains of feeling. I record this only to show the unpromising human material upon which Melissa elected to work, to blow some breath of life into my nostrils. It could not have been easy for her to bear the double burden to her own poor circumstances and illness. To add my burdens to hers demanded real courage. Perhaps it was born of desperation, for she too had reached the dead level of things, as I myself had. We were fellow-bankrupts. For weeks her lover, the old furrier, followed me about the streets with a pistol sagging in the pocket of his overcoat. It was consoling to learn from one of Melissa’s friends that it was unloaded, but it was nevertheless alarming to be haunted by this old man. Mentally we must have shot each other down at every street corner of the city. I for my part could not bear to look at that heavy pock-marked face with its bestial saturnine cluster of tormented features smeared on it — could not bear to think of his gross intimacies with her: those sweaty little hands covered as thickly as a porcupine with black hair. For a long time this went on and then after some months an extraordinary feeling of intimacy seemed to grow up between us. We nodded and smiled at each other when we met. Once, encountering him at a bar, I stood for nearly an hour beside him; we were on the point of talking to each other, yet somehow neither of us had the courage to begin it. There was no common subject of conversation save Melissa. As I was leaving I caught a glimpse of him in one of the long mirrors, his head bowed as he stared into the wineglass. Something about his attitude — the clumsy air of a trained seal grappling with human emotions — struck me, and I realized for the first time that he probably loved Melissa as much as I did. I pitied his ugliness, and the blank pained incomprehension with which he faced emotions so new to him as jealousy, the deprivation of a cherished mistress. Afterwards when they were turning out his pockets I saw among the litter of odds and ends a small empty scent-bottle of the cheap kind that Melissa used; and I took it back to the flat where it stayed on the mantelpiece for some months before it was thrown away by Hamid in the course of a spring-clean. I never told Melissa of this; but often when I was alone at night while she was dancing, perhaps of necessity sleeping with her admirers, I studied this small bottle, sadly and passionately reflecting on this horrible old man’s love and measuring it against my own; and tasting too, vicariously, the desperation which makes one clutch at some small discarded object which is still impregnated with the betrayer’s memory. I found Melissa, washed up like a half-drowned bird, on the dreary littorals of Alexandria, with her sex broken….In the great quietness of these winter evenings there is one clock: the sea. Its dim momentum in the mind is the fugue upon which this writing is made. Empty cadences of sea-water licking its own wounds, sulking along the mouths of the delta, boiling upon those deserted beaches — empty, forever empty under the gulls: white scribble on the grey, munched by clouds. If there are ever sails here they die before the land shadows them. Wreckage washed up on the pediments of islands, the last crust, eroded by the weather, stuck in the blue maw of water … gone!When the time for the great yearly shoot on Lake Mareotis came round Nessim began to experience a magical sense of relief. He recognized at last that what had to be decided would be decided at this time and at no other. He had the air of a man who has fought a long illness successfully. Had his judgement indeed been so faulty even though it had not been conscious? During the years of his marriage he had repeated on every day the words, ‘I am so happy’ — fatal as the striking of a grandfather-clock upon which silence is forever encroaching. Now he could say so no longer. Their common life was like some cable buried in the sand which, in some inexplicable way, at a point impossible to discover, had snapped, plunging them both into an unaccustomed and impenetrable darkness. The madness itself, of course, took no account of circumstances. It appeared to superimpose itself not upon personalities tortured beyond the bounds of endurance but purely upon a given situation. In a real sense we all shared it, though only Nessim acted it out, exemplified it in the flesh, as a person. The short period which preceded the great shoot on Mareotis lasted for perhaps a month — certainly for very little more. Here again to those who did not know him nothing was obvious. Yet the delusions multiplied themselves at such a rate that in his own records they give one the illusion of watching bacteria under a microscope — the pullulation of healthy cells, as in cancer, which have gone off their heads, renounced their power to repress themselves. The mysterious series of code messages transmitted by the street names he encountered showed definite irrefutable signs of a supernatural agency at work full of the threat of unseen punishment — though whether for himself or for others he could not tell. Balthazar’s treatise lying withering in the window of a bookshop and the same day coming upon his father’s grave in the Jewish cemetery — with those distinguishing names engraved upon the stone which echoed all the melancholy of European Jewry in exile. Then the question of noises in the room next door: a sort of heavy breathing and the sudden simultaneous playing of three pianos. These, he knew, were not delusions but links in an occult chain, logical and persuasive only to the mind which had passed beyond the frame of causality. It was becoming harder and harder to pretend to be sane by the standards of ordinary behaviour. He was going through the Devastatio described by Swedenborg. The coal fires had taken to burning into extraordinary shapes. This could be proved by relighting them over and over again to verify his findings — terrifying landscapes and faces. The mole on Justine’s wrist was also troubling. At meal times he fought against his desire to touch it so feverishly that he turned pale and almost fainted. One afternoon a crumpled sheet began breathing and continued for a space of about half an hour, assuming the shape of the body it covered. One night he woke to the soughing of great wings and saw a bat-like creature with the head of a violin resting upon the bedrail. Then the counter-agency of the powers of good — a message brought by a ladybird which settled on the notebook in which he was writing; the music of Weber’s Pan played every day between three and four on a piano in an adjoining house. He felt that his mind had become a battle-ground for the forces of good and evil and that his task was to strain every nerve to recognize them, but it was not easy. The phenomenal world had begun to play tricks on him so that his senses were beginning to accuse reality itself of inconsistency. He was in peril of a mental overthrow. Once his waistcoat started ticking as it hung on the back of a chair, as if inhabited by a colony of foreign heartbeats. But when investigated it stopped and refused to continue for the benefit of Selim whom he had called into the room. The same day he saw his initials in gold upon a cloud reflected in a shop-window in the Rue St Saba. Everything seemed proved by this. That same week a stranger was seated in the corner always reserved for Balthazar in the Café Al Aktar sipping an arak — the arak he had intended to order. The figure bore a strong yet distorted resemblance to himself as he turned in the mirror, unfolding his lips from white teeth in a smile. He did not wait but hurried to the door. As he walked the length of the Rue Fuad he felt the entire pavement turn to sponge beneath his feet; he was foundering waist-deep in it before the illusion vanished. At two-thirty that afternoon he rose from a feverish sleep, dressed and set off to confirm an overpowering intuition that both Pastroudi and the Café Dordali were empty. They were, and the fact filled him with triumphant relief; but it was short-lived, for on returning to his room he felt all of a sudden as if his heart were being expelled from his body by the short mechanical movements of an air-pump. He had come to hate and fear this room of his. He would stand for a long time listening until the noise came again — the slither of wires being uncoiled upon the floor and the noise of some small animal, its shrieks being stifled, as it was bundled into a bag. Then distinctly the noise of suitcase-hasps being fastened with a snap and the breathing of someone who stood against the wall next door, listening for the least sound. Nessim removed his shoes and tip-toed to the bay-window in an attempt to see into the room next door. His assailant, it seemed to him, was an elderly man, gaunt and sharp-featured, with the sunk reddish eyes of a bear. He was unable to confirm this. Then, waking early on the very morning upon which the invitations for the great shoot must be issued he saw with horror from the bedroom window two suspicious-looking men in Arab dress tying a rope to a sort of windlass on the roof. They pointed to him and spoke together in low tones. Then they began to lower something heavy, wrapped in a fur coat, into the open street below. His hands trembled as he filled in the large white squares of pasteboard with that flowing script, selecting his names from the huge typewritten list which Selim had left on his desk. Nevertheless he smiled as well when he recalled how large a space was devoted in the local press each year to this memorable event — the great shoot on Mareotis. With so much to occupy him he felt that nothing should be left to chance and though the solicitous Selim hovered near, he pursed his lips and insisted on attending to all the invitations himself. My own, charged with every presage of disaster, stared at me now from the mantelpiece. I gazed at it, my attention scattered by nicotine and wine, recognizing that here, in some indefinable way, was the solution towards which we all had moved. (‘Where science leaves off nerves begin.’ Moeurs.) ‘Of course you will refuse. You will not go?’ Justine spoke so sharply that I understood that her gaze followed mine. She stood over me in the misty early morning light, and between sentences cocked an ear towards the heavily-breathing wraith of Hamid behind the door. ‘You are not to tempt providence. Will you? Answer me.’ And as if to make persuasion certain she slipped off her skirt and shoes and fell softly into bed beside me — warm hair and mouth, and the treacherous nervous movements of a body which folded against one as if hurt, as if tender from unhealed wounds. It seemed to me then — and the compulsion had nothing of bravado in it — it seemed to me then that I could no longer deprive Nessim of the satisfaction he sought of me, or indeed the situation of its issue. There was, too, underneath it all a vein of relief which made me fell almost gay until I saw the grave sad expression of my companion-in-arms. She lay, staring out of those wonderfully expressive dark eyes, as if from a high window in her own memory. She was looking, I knew, into the eyes of Melissa — into the troubled candid eyes of one who, with every day of increasing danger, moved nearer and nearer to us. After all, the one most to be wounded by the issue Nessim might be contemplating was Melissa — who else? I thought back along the iron chain of kisses which Justine had forged, steadily back into memory, hand over fist, like a mariner going down an anchor-chain into the darkest depths of some great stagnant harbour, memory. From among many sorts of failure each selects the one which least compromises his self-respect: which lets him down the lightest. Mine had been in art, in religion, and in people. In art I had failed (it suddenly occurred to me at this moment) because I did not believe in the discrete human personality. (‘Are people’ writes Pursewarden ‘continuously themselves, or simply over and over again so fast that they give the illusion of continuous features — the temporal flicker of old silent film?’) I lacked a belief in the true authenticity of people in order to successfully portray them. In religion? Well, I found no religion worth while which contained the faintest grain of propitiation — and which can escape the charge? Pace Balthazar it seemed to me that all churches, all sects, were at the best mere academies of self-instruction against fear. But the last, the worst failure (I buried my lips in the dark living hair of Justine), the failure with people: it had been brought about by a gradually increasing detachment of spirit which, while it freed me to sympathize, forbade me possession. I was gradually, inexplicably, becoming more and more deficient in love, yet better and better at self-giving — the best part of loving. This, I realized with horror, was the hold I now had over Justine. As a woman, a natural possessive, she was doomed to try and capture the part of myself which was forever beyond reach, the last painful place of refuge which was for me laughter and friendship. This sort of loving had made her, in a way, desperate for I did not depend on her; and the desire to possess can, if starved, render one absolutely possessed in the spirit oneself. How difficult it is to analyse these relationships which lie under the mere skin of our actions; for loving is only a sort of skin-language, sex a terminology merely. And further to render down this sad relationship which had caused me so much pain — I saw that pain itself was the only food of memory: for pleasure ends in itself — all they had bequeathed me was a fund of permanent health — life-giving detachment. I was like a dry-cell battery. Uncommitted, I was free to circulate in the world of men and women like a guardian of the true rights of love — which is not passion, nor habit (they only qualify it) but which is the divine trespass of an immortal among mortals — Aphrodite-in-arms. Beleaguered thus, I was nevertheless defined and realized in myself by the very quality which (of course) hurt me most: selflessness. This is what Justine loved in me — not my personality. Women are sexual robbers, and it was this treasure of detachment she hoped to steal from me — the jewel growing in the toad’s head. It was the signature of this detachment she saw written across my life with all its haphazardness, discordance, disorderliness. My value was not in anything I achieved or anything I owned. Justine loved me because I presented to her something which was indestructible — a person already formed who could not be broken. She was haunted by the feeling that even while I was loving her I was wishing at the same time only to die! This she found unendurable. And Melissa? She lacked of course the insight of Justine into my case. She only knew that my strength supported her where she was at her weakest — in her dealings with the world. She treasured every sign of my human weakness — disorderly habits, incapacity over money affairs, and so on. She loved my weaknesses because there she felt of use to me; Justine brushed all this aside as unworthy of her interest. She had detected another kind of strength. I interested her only in this one particular which I could not offer her as a gift nor she steal from me. This is what is meant by possession — to be passionately at war for the qualities in one another to contend for the treasures of each other’s personalities. But how can such a war be anything but destructive and hopeless? And yet, so entangled are human motives: it would be Melissa herself who had driven Nessim from his refuge in the world of fantasy towards an action which he knew we would all bitterly regret — our death. For it was she who, overmastered by the impulse of her unhappiness one night, approached the table at which he sat, before an empty champagne-glass, watching the cabaret with a pensive air: and blushing and trembling in her false eyelashes, blurted out eight words, ‘Your wife is no longer faithful to you’ — a phrase which stood quivering in his mind from then on, like a thrown knife. It is true that for a long time now his dossiers had been swollen with reports of this dreaded fact but these reports were like newspaper-accounts of a catastrophe which had occurred a long way off, in a country which one had not visited. Now he was suddenly face to face with an eye-witness, a victim, a survivor…. The resonance of this one phrase refecundated his powers of feeling. The whole dead tract of paper suddenly rose up and screeched at him. Melissa’s dressing-room was an evil-smelling cubicle full of the coiled pipes which emptied the lavatories. She had a single poignant strip of cracked mirror and a little shelf dressed with the kind of white paper upon which wedding-cakes are built. Here she always set out the jumble of powders and crayons which she misused so fearfully. In this mirror the image of Selim blistered and flickered in the dancing gas-jets like a spectre from the underworld. He spoke with an incisive finish which was a copy of his master’s; in this copied voice she could feel some of the anxiety the secretary felt for the only human being he truly worshipped, and to whose anxieties he reacted like a planchette. Melissa was afraid now, for she knew that offence given to the great could, by the terms of the city, be punished swiftly and dreadfully. She was aghast at what she had done and fought back a desire to cry as she picked off her eyelashes with trembling hands. There was no way of refusing the invitation. She dressed in her shabby best and carrying her fatigue like a heavy pack followed Selim to the great car which stood in deep shadow. She was helped in beside Nessim. They moved off slowly into the dense crepuscular evening of an Alexandria which, in her panic, she no longer recognized. They scouted a sea turned to sapphire and turned inland, folding up the slums, towards Mareotis and the bituminous slag-heaps of Mex where the pressure of the headlights now peeled off layer after layer of the darkness, bringing up small intimate scenes of Egyptian life — a drunkard singing, a biblical figure on a mule with two children escaping from Herod, a porter sorting sacks — swiftly, like someone dealing cards. She followed these familiar sights with emotion, for behind lay the desert, its emptiness echoing like a seashell. All this time her companion had not spoken, and she had not dared to risk so much as a glance in his direction. Now when the pure steely lines of the dunes came up under the late moon Nessim drew the car to a standstill. Groping in his pocket for his cheque-book he said in a trembling voice, his eyes full of tears: ‘What is the price of your silence?’ She turned to him and, seeing for the first time the gentleness and sorrow of that dark face, found her fear replaced by an overwhelming shame. She recognized in his expression the weakness for the good which could never render him an enemy of her kind. She put a timid hand on his arm and said: ‘I am so ashamed. Please forgive me. I did not know what I was saying.’ And her fatigue overcame her so that her emotion which threatened her with tears turned to a yawn. Now they stared at one another with a new understanding, recognizing each other as innocents. For a minute it was almost as if they had fallen in love with each other from sheer relief. The car gathered momentum again like their silence — and soon they were racing across the desert towards the steely glitter of stars, and a horizon stained black with the thunder of surf. Nessim, with this strange sleepy creature at his side, found himself thinking over and over again: ‘Thank God I am not a genius — for a genius has nobody in whom he can confide.’ The glances he snatched at her enabled him to study her, and to study me in her. Her loveliness must have disarmed and disturbed him as it had me. It was a beauty which filled one with the terrible premonition that it had been born to be a target for the forces of destruction. Perhaps he remembered an anecdote of Pursewarden’s in which she figured, for the latter had found her as Nessim himself had done, in the same stale cabaret; only on this particular evening she had been sitting in a row of dance-hostesses selling dance-tickets. Pursewarden, who was gravely drunk, took her to the floor and, after a moment’s silence, addressed her in his sad yet masterful way: ‘Comment vous défendez-vous contre la solitude?’ he asked her. Melissa turned upon him an eye replete with all the candour of experience and replied softly: ‘Monsieur, je suis devenue la solitude même.’ Pursewarden was sufficiently struck to remember and repeat this passage later to his friends, adding: ‘I suddenly thought to myself that here was a woman one might very well love.’ Yet he did not, as far as I know, take the risk of revisiting her, for the book was going well, and he recognized in the kindling of this sympathy a trick being played on him by the least intent part of his nature. He was writing about love at the time and did not wish to disturb the ideas he had formed on the subject. (‘I cannot fall in love’ he made a character exclaim ‘for I belong to that ancient secret society — the Jokers!’; and elsewhere speaking about his marriage he wrote: ‘I found that as well as displeasing another I also displeased myself; now, alone, I have only myself to displease. Joy!’) Justine was still standing over me, watching my face as I composed these scorching scenes in my mind. ‘You will make some excuse’ she repeated hoarsely. ‘You will not go.’ It seemed to me impossible to find a way out of this predicament. ‘How can I refuse?’ I said. ‘How can you?’ They had driven across that warm, tideless desert night, Nessim and Melissa, consumed by a sudden sympathy for each other, yet speechless. On the last scarp before Bourg El Arab he switched off the engine and let the car roll off the road. ‘Come’ he said. ‘I want to show you Justine’s Summer Palace.’ Hand in hand they took the road to the little house. The caretaker was asleep but he had the key. The rooms smelt damp and uninhabited, but were full of light reflected from the white dunes. It was not long before he had kindled a fire of thorns in the great fireplace, and taking his old abba from the cupboard he clothed himself in it and sat down before it saying: ‘Tell me now, Melissa, who sent you to persecute me?’ He meant it as a joke but forgot to smile, and Melissa turned crimson with shame and bit her lip. They sat there for a long time enjoying the firelight and the sensation of sharing something — their common hopelessness. (Justine stubbed out her cigarette and got slowly out of bed. She began to walk slowly up and down the carpet. Fear had overcome her and I could see that it was only with an effort that she overcame the need for a characteristic outburst. ‘I have done so many things in my life’ she said to the mirror. ‘Evil things, perhaps. But never inattentively, never wastefully. I’ve always thought of acts as messages, wishes from the past to the future, which invited self-discovery. Was I wrong? Was I wrong?’ It was not to me she addressed the question now but to Nessim. It is so much easier to address questions intended for one’s husband to one’s lover. ‘As for the dead’ she went on after a moment, ‘I have always thought that the dead think of us as dead. They have rejoined the living after this trifling excursion into quasi-life.’ Hamid was stirring now and she turned to her clothes in a panic. ‘So you must go’ she said sadly, ‘and so must I. You are right. We must go.’ And then turning to the mirror to complete her toilet she added: ‘Another grey hair’ studying that wicked fashionable face. Watching her thus, trapped for a moment by a rare sunbeam on the dirty window-pane, I could not help reflecting once more that in her there was nothing to control or modify the intuition which she had developed out of a nature gorged upon introspection: no education, no resources of intellection to battle against the imperatives of a violent heart. Her gift was the gift one finds occasionally in ignorant fortune-tellers. Whatever passed for thought in her was borrowed — even the remark about the dead which occurs in Moeurs; she had picked out what was significant in books not by reading them but by listening to the matchless discourses of Balthazar, Arnauti, Pursewarden, upon them. She was a walking abstract of the writers and thinkers whom she had loved or admired — but what clever woman is more?) Nessim now took Melissa’s hands between his own (they lay there effortless, cool, like wafers) and began to question her about me with an avidity which might have easily suggested that his passion was not Justine, but myself. One always falls in love with the love-choice of the person one loves. What would I not give to learn all that she told him, striking ever more deeply into his sympathies with her candours, her unexpected reserves? All I know is that she concluded stupidly, ‘Even now they are not happy: they quarrel dreadfully: Hamid told me so when last I met him.’ Surely she was experienced enough to recognize in these reported quarrels the very subject-matter of our love? I think she saw only the selfishness of Justine — that almost deafening lack of interest in other people which characterized my tyrant. She utterly lacked the charity of mind upon which Melissa’s good opinion alone could be grounded. She was not really human — nobody wholly dedicated to the ego is. What on earth could I see in her? — I asked this question of myself for the thousandth time. Yet Nessim, in beginning to explore and love Melissa as an extension of Justine, delineated perfectly the human situation. Melissa would hunt in him for the qualities which she imagined I must have found in his wife. The four of us were unrecognized complementaries of one another, inextricably bound together. (‘We who have travelled much and loved much: we who have — I will not say suffered for we have always recognized through suffering our own self-sufficiency — only we appreciate the complexities of tenderness, and understand how narrowly love and friendship are related.’ Moeurs.) They talked now as a doomed brother and sister might, renewing in each other the sense of relief which comes to those who find someone to share the burden of unconfessed preoccupations. In all this sympathy an unexpected shadow of desire stirred within them, a wraith merely, the stepchild of confession and release. It foreshadowed, in a way, their own love-making, which was to come, and which was so much less ugly than ours — mine and Justine’s. Loving is so much truer when sympathy and not desire makes the match; for it leaves no wounds. It was already dawn when they rose from their conversation, stiff and cramped, the fire long since out, and marched across the damp sand to the car, scouting the pale lavender light of dawn. Melissa had found a friend and patron; as for Nessim, he was transfigured. The sensation of a new sympathy had enabled him, magically, to become his own man again — that is to say, a man who could act (could murder his wife’s lover if he so wished)! Driving along that pure and natal coastline they watched the first tendrils of sunlight uncoil from horizon to horizon across the dark self-sufficient Mediterranean sea whose edges were at one and the same moment touching lost hallowed Carthage and Salamis in Cyprus. Presently, where the road dips down among the dunes to the seashore Nessim once more slowed down and involuntarily suggested a swim. Changed as he was he felt a sudden desire that Melissa should see him naked, should approve the beauty which for so long had lain, like a suit of well-cut clothes in an attic cupboard, forgotten. Naked and laughing, they waded out hand in hand, into the icy water feeling the tame sunlight glowing on their backs as they did so. It was like the first morning since the creation of the world. Melissa, too, had shed with her clothes the last residual encumbrance of the flesh, and had become the dancer she truly was; for nakedness always gave her fulness and balance: the craft she lacked in the cabaret. They lay together for a long time in perfect silence, seeking through the darkness of their feelings for the way forward. He realized that he had won an instant compliance from her — that she was now his mistress in everything. They set off together for the city, feeling at the same time happy and ill-at-ease — for both felt a kind of hollowness at the heart of their happiness. Yet since they were reluctant to surrender each other to the life which awaited them they lagged, the car lagged, their silence lagged between endearments. At last Nessim remembered a tumbledown café in Mex where one could find a boiled egg and coffee. Early though it was the sleepy Greek proprietor was awake and set chairs for them under a barren fig-tree in a backyard full of hens and their meagre droppings. All around them towered corrugated iron wharves and factories. The sea was present only as a dank and resonant smell of hot iron and tar. He set her down at last on the street-corner she named and said good-bye in a ‘wooden perfunctory’ sort of way — afraid perhaps that some of his own office employees might oversee him. (This last is my own conjecture as the words ‘wooden’ and ‘perfunctory’, which smell of literature, seem somehow out of place.) The inhuman bustle of the city intervened once more, committing them to past feelings and preoccupations. For her part, yawning, sleepy and utterly natural as she was, she left him only to turn into the little Greek church and set a candle to the saint. She crossed herself from left to right as the orthodox custom is and brushed back a lock of hair with one hand as she stooped to the ikon, tasting in its brassy kiss all the consolation of a forgotten childhood habit. Then wearily she turned to find Nessim standing before her. He was deathly white and staring at her with a sweet burning curiosity. She at once understood everything. They embraced with a sort of anguish, not kissing, but simply pressing their bodies together, and he all at once began to tremble with fatigue. His teeth began to chatter. She drew him to a choir stall where he sat for some abstracted moments, struggling to speak, and drawing his hand across his forehead like someone who is recovering from drowning. It was not that he had anything to say to her, but this speechlessness made him fear that he was experiencing a stroke. He croaked: ‘It is terribly late, nearly half past six.’ Pressing her hand to his stubbled cheek he rose and like a very old man groped his way back through the great doors into the sunlight, leaving her sitting there gazing after him. Never had the early dawn-light seemed so good to Nessim. The city looked to him as brilliant as a precious stone. The shrill telephones whose voices filled the great stone buildings in which the financiers really lived, sounded to him like the voices of great fruitful mechanical birds. They glittered with a pharaonic youthfulness. The trees in the park had been rinsed down by an unaccustomed dawn rain. They were covered in brilliants and looked like great contented cats at their toilet. Sailing upwards to the fifth floor in the lift, making awkward attempts to appear presentable (feeling the dark stubble on his chin, retying his tie) Nessim questioned his reflection in the cheap mirror, puzzled by the whole new range of feelings and beliefs these brief scenes had given him. Under everything, however, aching like a poisoned tooth or finger, lay the quivering meaning of those eight words which Melissa had lodged in him. In a dazed sort of way he recognized that Justine was dead to him — from a mental picture she had become an engraving, a locket which one might wear over one’s heart for ever. It is always bitter to leave the old life for the new — and every woman is a new life, compact and self-contained and sui generis. As a person she had suddenly faded. He did not wish to possess her any longer but to free himself from her. From a woman she had become a situation. He rang for Selim and when the secretary appeared he dictated to him a few of the duller business letters with a calm so surprising that the boy’s hand trembled as he took them down in his meticulous crowsfoot shorthand. Perhaps Nessim had never been more terrifying to Selim than he appeared at this moment, sitting at his great polished desk with the gleaming battery of telephones ranged before him. Nessim did not meet Melissa for some time after this episode but he wrote her long letters, all of which he destroyed in the lavatory. It seemed necessary to him, for some fantastic reason, to explain and justify Justine to her and each of these letters began with a long painful exegesis of Justine’s past and his own. Without this preamble, he felt, it would be impossible ever to speak of the way in which Melissa had moved and captivated him. He was defending his wife, of course, not against Melissa, who had uttered no criticism of her (apart from the one phrase) but against all the new doubts about her which emerged precisely from his experience with Melissa. Just as my own experience of Justine had illuminated and re-evaluated Melissa for me so he looking into Melissa’s grey eyes saw a new and unsuspected Justine born therein. You see, he was now alarmed at the extent to which it might become possible to hate her. He recognized now that hate is only unachieved love. He felt envious when he remembered the single-mindedness of Pursewarden who on the flyleaf of the last book he gave Balthazar had scribbled the mocking words: Pursewarden on Life N.B. Food is for eating Art is for arting Women for —————— Finish RIP And when next they met, under very different circumstances … But I have not the courage to continue. I have explored Melissa deeply enough through my own mind and heart and cannot bear to recall what Nessim found in her — pages covered with erasures and emendations. Pages which I have torn from my diaries and destroyed. Sexual jealousy is the most curious of animals and can take up a lodgement anywhere, even in memory. I avert my face from the thought of Nessim’s shy kisses, of Melissa’s kisses which selected in Nessim only the nearest mouth to mine…. From a crisp packet I selected a strip of pasteboard on which, after so many shame-faced importunities, I had persuaded a local jobbing printer to place my name and address, and taking up my pen wrote: mr —————— accepts with pleasure the kind invitation of mr —————— to a duck shoot on Lake Mareotis. It seemed to me that now one might learn some important truths about human behaviour.Of the common mind? Wherever now I look D. A. F. DE SADE: JustineThe EndJust as you’ve ruined your life in thisThe mirror sees the man as beautiful, the mirror loves the man; another mirror sees the man as frightful and hates him; and it is always the same being who produces the impressions.To London he always returned with the tremulous eagerness of a lover who has been separated a long time from his mistress; he returned, so to speak, upon a note of interrogation. Had life altered? Had anything been changed? Perhaps the nation had, after all, woken up and begun to live? The thin black drizzle over Trafalgar Square, the soot-encrusted cornices of Whitehall, the slur of rubber tyres spinning upon macadam, the haunting conspiratorial voice of river traffic behind the veils of mist — they were both a reassurance and a threat. He loved it inarticulately, the melancholy of it, though he knew in his heart he could no longer live here permanently, for his profession had made an expatriate of him. He walked in the soft clinging rain towards Downing Street, muffled in his heavy overcoat, comparing himself from time to time, not without a certain complacence, to the histrionic Grand Duke who smiled at him from the occasional hoardings advertising De Reszke cigarettes. He smiled to himself as he remembered some of Pursewarden’s acid strictures on their native capital, repeating them in his own mind with pleasure, as compliments almost. Pursewarden transferring his sister’s hand from one elbow to another in order to complete a vague gesture towards the charred-looking figure of Nelson under its swarming troops of pigeons befluffed against the brute cold. ‘Ah, Mountolive! Look at it all. Home of the eccentric and the sexually disabled. London! Thy food as appetizing as a barium meal, thy gloating discomforts, thy causes not lost but gone before.’ Mountolive had protested laughingly. ‘Never mind, It is our own — and it is greater than the sum of its defects.’ But his companion had found such sentiments uncongenial. He smiled now as he remembered the writer’s wry criticisms of gloom, discomfort and the native barbarism. As for Mountolive, it nourished him, the gloom; he felt something like the fox’s love for its earth. He listened with a comfortable smiling indulgence while his companion perorated with mock fury at the image of his native island, saying: ‘Ah, England! England where the members of the R.S.P.C.A. eat meat twice a day and the nudist devours imported fruit in the snow. The only country which is ashamed of poverty.’ Big Ben struck its foundering plunging note. Lamps had begun to throw out their lines of prismatic light. Even in the rain there was the usual little cluster of tourists and loungers outside the gates of Number Ten. He turned sharply away and entered the silent archways of the Foreign Office, directing his alien steps to the bag-room, virtually deserted now, where he declared himself and gave instructions about the forwarding of his mail, and left an order for the printing of new and more resplendent invitation cards. Then in a somewhat more thoughtful mood, and a warier walk to match it, he climbed the cold staircase smelling of cobwebs and reached the embrasures in the great hall patrolled by the uniformed janitors. It was late, and most of the inhabitants of what Pursewarden always called the ‘Central Dovecot’ had surrendered their tagged keys and vanished. Here and there in the great building were small oases of light behind barred windows. The clink of teacups sounded somewhere out of sight. Someone fell over a pile of scarlet despatch boxes which had been stacked in a corridor against collection. Mountolive sighed with familiar pleasure. He had deliberately chosen the evening hours for his first few interviews because there was Kenilworth to be seen and … his ideas were not very precise upon the point; but he might atone for his dislike of the man by taking him to his club for a drink? For somewhere along the line he had made an enemy of him, he could not guess how, for it had never been marked by any open disagreement. Yet it was there, like a knot in wood. They had been near-contemporaries at school and university, though never friends. But while he, Mountolive, had climbed smoothly and faultlessly up the ladder of promotion the other had been somehow faulted, had always missed his footing; had drifted about among the departments of little concern, collecting the routine honours, but never somehow catching a favourable current. The man’s brilliance and industry were undeniable. Why had he never succeeded? Mountolive asked himself the question fretfully, indignantly. Luck? At any rate here was Kenilworth now heading the new department concerned with Personnel, innocuous enough, to be sure, but his failure embarrassed Mountolive. For a man of his endowment it was really a shame to be merely in charge of one of those blank administrative constructs which offered no openings into the worlds of policy. A dead end. And if he could not develop positively he would soon develop the negative powers of obstruction which always derive from a sense of failure. As he was thinking this he was climbing slowly to the third floor to report his presence to Granier, moving through the violet crepuscule towards the tall cream doors behind which the Under-Secretary sat in a frozen bubble of green light, incising designs on his pink blotter with a paper-knife. Congratulations weighed something here, for they were spiced with professional envy. Granier was a clever, witty and good-tempered man with some of the mental agility and drive of a French grandmother. It was easy to like him. He spoke rapidly and confidently, marking his sentences with little motions of the ivory paper-weight. Mount-olive fell in naturally with the charm of his language — the English of fine breeding and polish which carried those invisible diacritical marks, the expression of its caste. ‘You looked in on the Berlin mission, I gather? Good. Anyway, if you’ve been following P.E. you will see the shape of things to come perhaps, and be able to judge the extent of our preoccupations with your own appointment. Eh?’ He did not like to use the word ‘war’. It sounded theatrical. ‘If the worst comes to the worst we don’t need to emphasize a concern for Suez — indeed, for the whole Arab complex of states. But since you’ve served out there I won’t pretend to lecture you about it. But we’ll look forward to your papers with interest. And moreover as you know Arabic’ ‘My Arabic has all gone, rusted away.’ ‘Hush’ said Granier, ‘not too loud. You owe your appointment in a very large measure to it. Can you get it back swiftly?’ ‘If I am allowed the leave I have accrued.’ ‘Of course. Besides, now that the Commission is wound up, we shall have to get agrément and so on. And of course the Secretary of State will want to confer when he gets back from Washington. Then what about investiture, and kissing hands and all that? Though we regard every appointment of the sort as urgent … well, you know as well as I do the mandarin calm of F.O. movements’ He smiled his clever and indulgent smile, lighting a Turkish cigarette. ‘I’m not so sure it isn’t a good philosophy either’ he went on. ‘At any rate, as a bias for policy. After all, we are always facing the inevitable, the irremediable; more haste, more muddle! More panic and less confidence. In diplomacy one can only propose, never dispose. That is up to God, don’t you think?’ Granier was one of those worldly Catholics who regarded God as a congenial club-member whose motives are above question. He sighed and was silent for a moment before adding: ‘No, we’ll have to set the chessboard up for you properly. It’s not everyone who’d consider Egypt a plum. All the better for you.’ Mountolive was mentally unrolling a map of Egypt with its green central spine bounded by deserts, the dusty anomalies of its peoples and creeds; and then watching it fade in three directions into incoherent desert and grassland; to the north Suez like a caesarian section through which the East was untimely ripped; then again the sinuous complex of mountains and dead granite, orchards and plains which were geographically distributed about the map at hazard, boundaries marked by dots…. The metaphor from chess was an apposite one. Cairo lay to the centre of this cobweb. He sighed and took his leave, preparing a new face with which to greet the unhappy Kenilworth. As he walked thoughtfully back to the janitors on the first floor he noted with alarm that he was already ten minutes late for his second interview and prayed under his breath that this would not be regarded as a deliberate slight. ‘Mr. Kenilworth has phoned down twice, sir. I told him where you were.’ Mountolive breathed more freely and addressed himself once more to the staircase, only to turn right this time and wind down several cold but odourless corridors to where Kenilworth waited, tapping his rimless pince-nez against a large and shapely thumb. They greeted one another with a grotesque effusion which effectively masked a reciprocal distaste. ‘My dear David’…. Was it, Mountolive wondered, simply an antipathy to a physical type? Kenilworth was of a large and porcine aspect, over two hundred pounds of food-and-culture snob. He was prematurely grey. His fat, well-manicured fingers held a pen with a delicacy suggesting incipient crewel-work or crochet. ‘My dear David!’ They embraced warmly. All the fat on Kenilworth’s large body hung down when he stood up. His flesh was knitted in a heavy cable stitch. ‘My dear Kenny’ said Mountolive with apprehension and self-disgust. ‘What splendid news. I flatter myself Kenilworth put on an arch expression ‘that I may have had something, quite small, quite insignificant, to do with it. Your Arabic weighed with the S. of S. and it was I who remembered it! A long memory. Paper work.’ He chuckled confusedly and sat down motioning Mount-olive to a chair. They discussed commonplaces for a while and at last Kenilworth joined his fingers into a gesture reminiscent of a pout and said: ‘But to our moutons, dear boy. I’ve assembled all the personal papers for you to browse over. It is all in order. It’s a well-found mission, you’ll find, very well-found. I’ve every confidence in your Head of Chancery, Errol. Of course, your own recommendations will weigh. You will look into the staff structure, won’t you, and let me know? Think about an A.D.C. too, eh? And I don’t know how you feel about a P.A. unless you can rob the typists’ pool. But as a bachelor, you’ll need someone for the social side, won’t you? I don’t think your third secretary would be much good.’ ‘Surely I can do all this on the spot?’ ‘Of course, of course. I was just anxious to see you settled in as comfortably as possible.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘There is only one change I was contemplating on my own. That was Pursewarden as first political.’ ‘Pursewarden?’ said Mountolive with a start. ‘I am transferring him. He has done statutory time, and he isn’t really happy about it. Needs a change in my view.’ ‘Has he said so?’ ‘Not in so many words.’ Mountolive’s heart sank. He took out the cigarette holder which he only used in moments of perplexity, charged it from the silver box on the desk, and sat back in the heavy old-fashioned chair. ‘Have you any other reasons?’ he asked quietly. ‘Because I should personally like to keep him, at least for a time.’ Kenilworth’s small eyes narrowed. His heavy neck became contused by the blush of annoyance which was trying to find its way up to his face. ‘To be frank with you, yes’ he said shortly. ‘Do tell me.’ ‘You will find a long report on him by Errol in the papers I’ve assembled. I don’t think he is altogether suitable. But then contract officers have never been as dependable as officers of the career. It’s a generalization, I know. I won’t say that our friend isn’t faithful to the firm — far from it. But I can say that he is opinionated and difficult. Well, soit! He’s a writer, isn’t he?’ Kenilworth ingratiated himself with the image of Pursewarden by a brief smile of unconscious contempt. ‘There has been endless friction with Errol. You see, since the gradual break-up of the High Commission after the signing of the Treaty, there has been a huge gap created, a hiatus; all the agencies which have grown up there since 1918 and which worked to the Commission have been cut adrift now that the parent body is giving place to an Embassy. There will be some thorough-going decisions for you to make. Everything is at sixes and sevens. Suspended animation has been the keynote of the last year and a half — and unsuspended hostilities between an Embassy lacking a Chief, and all these parentless bodies struggling against their own demise. Do you see? Now Pursewarden may be brilliant but he has put a lot of backs up — not only in the mission; people like Maskelyne, for example, who runs the War Office I.C. Branch and has this past five years. They are at each other’s throats.’ ‘But what has an I. Branch to do with us?’ ‘Exactly, nothing. But the High Commissioner’s Political Section depended on Maskelyne’s Intelligence reports. I.C. Intelligence Collation was the central agency for the Middle East Central Archives and all that sort of thing.’ ‘Where’s the quarrel?’ ‘Pursewarden as political feels that the Embassy has also in a way inherited Maskelyne’s department from the Commission. Maskelyne refuses to countenance this. He demands parity or even complete freedom for his show. It is military after all.’ ‘Then set it under a military attaché for the time being.’ ‘Good, but Maskelyne refuses to agree to become part of your mission as his seniority is greater than your attaché designate’s.’ ‘What rubbish all this is. What is his rank?’ ‘Brigadier. You see, since the end of the ’18 show, Cairo has been the senior post office of the intelligence network and all intelligence was funnelled through Maskelyne. Now Pursewarden is trying to appropriate him, bring him to heel. Battle royal, of course. Poor Errol, who I admit is rather weak in some ways, is flapping between them like a loose sail. That is why I thought your task would be easier if you shed Pursewarden.’ ‘Or Maskelyne.’ ‘Good, but he’s a War Office body. You couldn’t. At any rate, he is most eager for you to arrive and arbitrate. He feels sure you will establish his complete autonomy.’ ‘I can’t tolerate an autonomous War Office Agency in a territory to which I am accredited, can I?’ ‘I agree. I agree, my dear fellow.’ ‘What does the War Office say?’ ‘You know the military! They will stand by any decision you choose to make. They’ll have to. But they have been dug in there for years now. Own staff branches and their transmitter up in Alexandria. I think they would like to stay.’ ‘Not independently. How could I?’ ‘Exactly. That is what Pursewarden maintains. Good, but someone will have to go in the interests of equity. We can’t have all this pin-pricking.’ ‘What pin-pricking?’ ‘Well, Maskelyne withholding reports and being forced to disgorge them to Political Branch. Then Pursewarden criticizing their accuracy and questioning the value of I.C. Branch. I tell you, real fireworks. No joke. Better shed the fellow. Besides, you know, he’s something of a…, keeps odd company. Errol is troubled about his security. Mind you, there is nothing against Pursewarden. It’s simply that’s he’s, well … a bit of a vulgarian, would you say? I don’t know how to qualify it. It’s Errol’s paper.’ Mountolive sighed. ‘It’s surely only the difference between, say, Eton and Worthing, isn’t it?’ They stared at one another. Neither thought the remark was funny. Kenilworth shrugged his shoulders with obvious pique. ‘My dear chap’ he said, ‘if you propose to make an issue of it with the S. of S. I can’t help it; you will get my proposals overruled. But my views have gone on record now. You’ll forgive me if I let them stay like that, as a comment upon Errol’s reports. After all, he has been running the show.’ ‘I know.’ ‘It is hardly fair on him.’ Stirring vaguely in his subconscious Mountolive felt once more the intimations of power now available to him — a power to take decisions in factors like these which had hitherto been left to fate, or the haphazard dictation of mediating wills; factors which had been unworth the resentments and doubts which their summary resolution by an act of thought would have bred. But if he was ever to claim the world of action as his true inheritance he must begin somewhere. A Head of Mission had the right to propose and sponsor the staff of his choice. Why should Pursewarden suffer through these small administrative troubles, endure the discomfort of a new posting to some uncongenial place? ‘I’m afraid the F.O. will lose him altogether if we play about with him’ he said unconvincingly; and then, as if to atone for a proposition so circuitous, added crisply: ‘At any rate, I propose to keep him for a while.’ The smile on Kenilworth’s face was one in which his eyes played no part. Mountolive felt the silence close upon them like the door of a vault. There was nothing to be done about it. He rose with an exaggerated purposefulness and extruded his cigarette-end into the ugly ashtray as he said: ‘At any rate, those are my views; and I can always send him packing if he is no use to me.’ Kenilworth swallowed quietly, like a toad under a stone, his expressionless eyes fixed upon the neutral wall-paper. The quiet susurrus of the London traffic came welling up between them. ‘I must go’ said Mountolive, by now beginning to feel annoyed with himself. ‘I am collecting all the files to take down to the country tomorrow evening. Today and tomorrow I’ll clear off routine interviews, and then … some leave I hope. Good-bye, Kenny.’ ‘Good-bye.’ But he did not move from his desk. He only nodded smilingly at the door as Mountolive closed it; then he turned back with a sigh to Errol’s neatly-typed memoranda which had been assembled in the grey file marked Attention of Ambassador Designate. He read a few lines, and then looked up wearily at the dark window before crossing the room to draw the curtains and pick up the phone. ‘Give me Archives, please.’ It would be wiser for the moment not to press his view. This trifling estrangement, however, had the effect of making Mountolive set aside his plan to take Kenilworth back to his club with him. It was in its way a relief. He rang up Liza Pursewarden instead and took her out to dinner. It was only two hours down to Dewford Mallows but once they were outside London it was clear that the whole countryside was deeply under snow. They had to slow down to a crawl which delighted Mountolive but infuriated the driver of the duty-car. ‘We’ll be there for Christmas, sir’ he said, ‘if at all!’ Ice-Age villages, their thatched barns and cottages perfected by the floury whiteness of snow, glistening as if from the tray of an expert confectioner; curving white meadows printed in cuneiform with the small footmarks of birds or otters, or the thawing blotches of cattle. The car windows sealing up steadily, gummed by the frost. They had no chains and no heater. Three miles from the village they came upon a wrecked lorry with a couple of villagers and an A.A. man standing idly about it, blowing on their perished fingers. The telegraph poles were down hereabouts. There was a dead bird lying on the glittering grey ice of Newton’s Pond — a hawk. They would never get over Parson’s Ridge, and Mountolive took pity on his driver and turned him back summarily on to the main road by the foot-bridge. ‘I live just over the hill’ he said. ‘It’ll take me just twenty-five minutes to walk it.’ The man was glad to turn back and unwilling to accept the tip Mountolive offered. Then he reversed slowly and turned the car away northward, while his passenger stepped forward into the brilliance, his condensing breath rising before him in a column. He followed the familiar footpath across fields which tilted ever more steeply away towards an invisible sky-line, describing (his memory had to do duty for his eyesight) something as perfected in its simplicity as Cavendish’s first plane. A ritual landscape made now overwhelmingly mysterious by the light of an invisible sun, moving somewhere up there behind the opaque screens of low mist which shifted before him, withdrawing and closing. It was a walk full of memories — but in default of visibility he was forced to imagine the two small hamlets on the hill-crown, the intent groves of beeches, the ruins of a Norman castle. His shoes cut a trembling mass of raindrops from the lush grass at every scythe-like step, until the bottoms of his trousers were soaked and his ankles turned to ice. Out of the invisible marched shadowy oaks, and suddenly there came a rattling and splattering — as if their teeth were chattering with the cold; the thawing snow was dripping down upon the carpet of dead leaves from the upper branches. Once over the crown all space was cut off. Rabbits lobbed softly away on all sides. The tall plumed grass had been starched into spikes by frost. Here and there came glimpses of a pale sun, its furred brilliance shining through the mist like a gas mantle burning brightly but without heat. And now he heard the click of his own shoes upon the macadam of the second-class road as he hastened his pace towards the tall gates of the house. Hereabouts the oaks were studded with brilliants; as he passed two fat pigeons rushed out of them and disappeared with the sharp wingflap of a thousand closing books. He was startled and then amused. There was the ‘form’ of a hare in the paddock, quite near the house. Fingers of ice tumbled about the trees with a ragged clatter — a thousand broken wineglasses. He groped for the old Yale key and smiled again as he felt it turn, admitting him to an unforgotten warmth which smelt of apricots and old books, polish and flowers; all the memories which led him back unerringly towards Piers Plowman, the pony, the fishing-rod, the stamp album. He stood in the hall and called her name softly. His mother was sitting by the fire, just as he had last left her with a book open upon her knees, smiling. It had become a convention between them to disregard his disappearance and returns: to behave as if he had simply absented himself for a few moments from this companionable room where she spent her life, reading or painting or knitting before the great fireplace. She was smiling now with the same smile — designed to cement space and time, and to anneal the loneliness which beset her while he was away. Mountolive put down his heavy briefcase and made a funny little involuntary gesture as he stepped towards her. ‘Oh dear’ he said, ‘I can see from your face that you’ve heard. I was so hoping to surprise you with my news!’ They were both heartbroken by the fact; and as she kissed him she said: ‘The Graniers came to tea last week. Oh, David, I’m so sorry. I did so want you to have your surprise. But I pretend so badly.’ Mountolive felt an absurd disposition towards tears of sheer vexation: he had invented the whole scene in his mind, and made up question and answer. It was like tearing up a play into which one had put a lot of imagination and hard work. ‘Damn’ he said, ‘how thoughtless of them!’ ‘They were trying to please me — and of course it did. You can imagine how much, can’t you?’ But from this point he stepped once more, lightly and effortlessly back into the current of memories which the house evoked around her and which led back almost to his eleventh birthday, the sense of well-being and plenitude as the warmth of the fire came out to greet him. ‘Your father will be pleased,’ she said later, in a new voice, sharper for being full of an unrealized jealousy — tidemarks of a passion which had long since refunded itself into an unwilling acquiescence. ‘I put all your mail in his study for you.’ ‘His’ study — the study which his father had never seen, never inhabited. The defection of his father stood always between them as their closest bond, seldom discussed yet somehow always there — the invisible weight of his private existence, apart from them both, in another corner of the world: happy or unhappy, who can say? ‘For those of us who stand upon the margins of the world, as yet unsolicited by any God, the only truth is that work itself is Love.’ An odd, a striking phrase for the old man to embed in a scholarly preface to a Pali text! Mountolive had turned the green volume over and over in his hands, debating the meaning of the words and measuring them against the memory of his father — the lean brown figure with the spare bone-structure of a famished sea-bird: dressed in an incongruous pith-helmet. Now, apparently he wore the robes of an Indian fakir! Was one to smile? He had not seen his father since his departure from India on his eleventh birthday; he had become like someone condemned in absentia for a crime … which could not be formulated. A friendly withdrawal into the world of Eastern scholarship on which his heart had been set for many years. It was perplexing. Mountolive senior had belonged to the vanished India, to the company of its rulers whose common devotion to their charge had made them a caste; but a caste which was prouder of a hostage given to Buddhist scholarship than of one given to an Honours List. Such disinterested devotions usually ended by a passionate self-identification with the subject of them — this sprawling subcontinent with its castes and creeds, its monuments and faiths and ruins. At first he had been simply a judge in the service, but within a few years he had become pre-eminent in Indian scholarship, an editor and interpreter of rare and neglected texts. The young Mountolive and his mother had been comfortably settled in England on the understanding that he would join them on retirement; to this end had this pleasant house been furnished with the trophies, books and pictures of a long working career. If it now had something of the air of a museum, it was because it had been deserted by its real author who had decided to stay on in India to complete the studies which (they both now recognized) would last him the rest of his life. This was not an uncommon phenomenon among the officials of the now vanished and disbanded corps. But it had come gradually. He had deliberated upon it for years before arriving at the decision, so that the letter he wrote announcing it all had the air of a document long meditated. It was in fact the last letter either of them received from him. From time to time, however, a passer-by who had visited him in the Buddhist Lodge near Madras to which he had retired, brought a kindly message from him. And of course the books themselves arrived punctually, one after the other, resplendent in their rich uniforms and bearing the grandiose imprints of University Presses. The books were, in a way, both his excuse and his apology. Mountolive’s mother had respected this decision; and nowadays hardly ever spoke of it. Only now and again the invisible author of their joint lives here in this snowy island emerged thus in a reference to ‘his’ study; or in some other remark like it which, uncommented upon, evaporated back into the mystery (for them) of a life which represented an unknown, an unresolved factor. Mountolive could never see below the surface of his mother’s pride in order to judge how much this defection might have injured her. Yet a common passionate shyness had grown up between them on the subject, for each secretly believed the other wounded. Before dressing for dinner that evening, Mountolive went into the book-lined study, which was also a gun-room, and took formal possession of ‘his father’s’ desk which he used whenever he was at home. He locked his files away carefully and sorted out his mail. Among the letters and postcards was a bulky envelope with a Cyprus stamp addressed to him in the unmistakable hand of Pursewarden. It suggested a manuscript at first and he cracked the seal with his finger in some perplexity. ‘My dear David’ it read. ‘You will be astonished to get a letter of such length from me, I don’t doubt. But the news of your appointment only reached me lately in rumoured form, and there is much you should know about the state of affairs here which I could not address to you formally as Ambassador Designate (Confidential: Under Flying Seal) ahem!’ There would be time enough, thought Mountolive with a sigh, to study all this accumulation of memoranda, and he unlocked the desk again to place it with his other papers. He sat at the great desk for a while in the quietness, soothed by the associations of the room with its bric-à-brac; the mandala paintings from some Burmese shrine, the Lepcha flags, the framed drawings for the first edition of the Jungle Book, the case of Emperor moths, the votive objects left at some abandoned temple. Then the rare books and pamphlets — early Kipling bearing the imprint of Thacker and Spink, Calcutta, Edwards Thompson’s fascicules, Younghusband, Mallows, Derby…. Some museum would be glad of them one day. Under a pressmark they would revert back to anonymity. He picked up the old Tibetan prayer-wheel which lay on the desk and twirled it once or twice, hearing the faint scrape of the revolving drum, still stuffed with the yellowing fragments of paper on which devout pens had long ago scribbled the classical invocation Om Mani Padme Hum. This had been an accidental parting gift. Before the boat left he had pestered his father for a celluloid aeroplane and together they had combed the bazaar for one without avail. Then his father had suddenly stopped at a pedlar’s stall and bought the wheel for a few rupees, thrusting it into his unwilling fingers as a substitute. It was late. They had to rush. Their good-byes had been perfunctory. Then after that, what? A tawny river-mouth under a brazen sun, the iridescent shimmer of heat blurring the faces, the smoke from the burning ghats, the dead bodies of men, blue and swollen, floating down the estuary…. That was as far as his memory went. He put down the heavy wheel and sighed. The wind shook the windows, whirling the snow against them, as if to remind him where he was. He took out his bundle of Arabic primers and the great dictionary. These must live beside his bed for the next few months. That night he was once more visited by the unaccountable affliction with which he always celebrated his return home — a crushing ear-ache which rapidly reduced him to a shivering pain-racked ghost of himself. It was a mystery, for no doctor had so far managed to allay — or even satisfactorily to diagnose — this onslaught of the petit mal. It never attacked him save when he was at home. As always, his mother overheard his groans and knew from old experience what they meant; she materialized out of the darkness by his bed bringing the comfort of ancient familiarity and the one specific which, since childhood, she had used to combat his distress. She always kept it handy now, in the cupboard beside her bed. Salad oil, warmed in a teaspoon over a candle-flame. He felt the warmth of the oil penetrate and embalm his brain, while his mother’s voice upon the darkness soothed him with its promises of relief. In a little while the tide of agony receded to leave him, washed up so to speak, on the shores of sleep — a sleep stirred vaguely by those comforting memories of childhood illnesses which his mother had always shared — they fell ill together, as if by sympathy. Was it so that they might lie in adjoining rooms talking to each other, reading to each other, sharing the luxury of a common convalescence? He did not know. He slept. It was a week before he addressed himself to his official papers and read the letter from Pursewarden. ***** Place Zagloul — silverware and caged doves. A vaulted cave lined with black barrels and choking with the smoke from frying whitebait and the smell of retzinnato. A message scribbled on the edge of a newspaper. Here I spilt wine on her cloak, and while attempting to help her repair the damage, accidentally touched her breasts. No word was spoken. While Pursewarden spoke so brilliantly of Alexandria and the burning library. In the room above a poor wretch screaming with meningitis…. ***** Today, unexpectedly, comes a squinting spring shower, stiffening the dust and pollen of the city, nailing the glass roof of the studio where Nessim sits over his croquis for his wife’s portrait. He has captured her sitting before the fire with a guitar in her hands, her throat snatched up by a spotted scarf, her singing head bent. The noise of her voice is jumbled in the back of his brain like the sound-track of an earthquake run backwards. Prodigious archery over the parks where the palm-trees have been dragged back taut; a mythology of yellow-maned waves attacking the Pharos. At night the city is full of new sounds, the pulls and stresses of the wind, until you feel it has become a ship, its old timbers groaning and creaking with every assault of the weather. This is the weather Scobie loves. Lying in bed will he fondle his telescope lovingly, turning a wistful eye on the blank wall of rotting mud-brick which shuts off his view of the sea. Scobie is getting on for seventy and still afraid to die; his one fear is that he will awake one morning and find himself lying dead — Lieutenant-Commander Scobie. Consequently it gives him a severe shock every morning when the water-carriers shriek under his window before dawn, waking him up. For a moment, he says, he dare not open his eyes. Keeping them fast shut (for fear that they might open on the heavenly host or the cherubims hymning) he gropes along the cake-stand beside his bed and grabs his pipe. It is always loaded from the night before and an open matchbox stands beside it. The first whiff of seaman’s plug restores both his composure and his eyesight. He breathes deeply, grateful for the reassurance. He smiles. He gloats. Drawing the heavy sheepskin which serves him as a bedcover up to his ears he sings his little triumphal paean to the morning, his voice crackling like tinfoil. ‘Taisez-vous, petit babouin: laissez parler votre mère.’ His pendulous trumpeter’s cheeks become rosy with the effort. Taking stock of himself he discovers that he has the inevitable headache. His tongue is raw from last night’s brandy. But against these trifling discomforts the prospect of another day in life weighs heavily. ‘Taisez-vous, petit babouin’, and so on, pausing to slip in his false teeth. He places his wrinkled fingers to his chest and is comforted by the sound of his heart at work, maintaining a tremulous circulation in that venous system whose deficiencies (real or imaginary I do not know) are only offset by brandy in daily and ail-but lethal doses. He is rather proud of his heart. If you ever visit him when he is in bed he is almost sure to grasp your hand in a horny mandible and ask you to feel it: ‘Strong as a bullock, what? Ticking over nicely’, is the way he puts it, in spite of the brandy. Swallowing a little you shove your hand inside his cheap night-jacket to experience those sad, blunt, far-away little bumps of life — like a foetal heart in the seventh month. He buttons up his pyjamas with a touching pride and gives his imitation roar of animal health. ‘Bounding from my bed like a lion’ — that is another of his phrases. You have not experienced the full charm of the man until you have actually seen him, bent double with rheumatism, crawling out from between his coarse cotton sheets like a derelict. Only in the warmest months of the year do his bones thaw out sufficiently to enable him to stand fully erect. In the summer afternoons he walks the Park, his little cranium glowing like a minor sun, his briar canted to heaven, his jaw set in a violent grimace of lewd health. No mythology of the city would be complete without its Scobie, and Alexandria will be the poorer for it when his sun-cured body wrapped in a union Jack is finally lowered into the shallow grave which awaits him at the Roman Catholic cemetery by the tram-line. His exiguous nautical pension is hardly enough to pay for the one cockroach-infested room which he inhabits in the slum-area behind Tatwig Street; he ekes it out with an equally exiguous salary from the Egyptian Government which carries with it the proud title of Bimbashi in the Police Force. Clea has painted a wonderful portrait of him in his police uniform with the scarlet tarbush on his head, and the great fly-whisk, as thick as a horse’s tail, laid gracefully across his bony knees. It is Clea who supplies him with tobacco and I with admiration, company, and weather permitting, brandy. We take it in turns to applaud his health, and to pick him up when he has struck himself too hard on the chest in enthusiastic demonstration of it. Origins he has none — his past proliferates through a dozen continents like a true subject of myth. And his presence is so rich with imaginary health that he needs nothing more — except perhaps an occasional trip to Cairo during Ramadan when his office is closed and when presumably all crime comes to a standstill because of the fast. Youth is beardless, so is second childhood. Scobie tugs tenderly at the remains of a once handsome and bushy torpedo-beard — but very gently, caressingly, for fear of pulling it out altogether and leaving himself quite naked. He clings to life like a limpet, each year bringing its hardly visible sea-change. It is as if his body were being reduced, shrunk, by the passing of the winters; his cranium will soon be the size of a baby’s. A year or two more and we will be able to squeeze it into a bottle and pickle it forever. The wrinkles become ever more heavily indented. Without his teeth his face is the face of an ancient ape; above the meagre beard his two cherry-red cheeks known affectionately as ‘port’ and ‘starboard’, glow warm in all weathers. Physically he has drawn heavily on the replacement department; in nineteen-ten a fall from the mizzen threw his jaw two points west by south-west, and smashed the frontal sinus. When he speaks his denture behaves like a moving staircase, travelling upwards and round inside his skull in a jerky spiral. His smile is capricious; it might appear from anywhere, like that of the Cheshire Cat. In ninety-eight he made eyes at another man’s wife (so he says) and lost one of them. No one except Clea is supposed to know about this, but the replacement in this case was rather a crude one. In repose it is not very noticeable, but the minute he becomes animated a disparity between his two eyes becomes obvious. There is also a small technical problem — his own eye is almost permanently bloodshot. On the very first occasion when he treated me to a reedy rendering of ‘Watchman, What of the Night?’, while he stood in the corner of the room with an ancient chamber-pot in his hand, I noticed that his right eye moved a trifle slower than his left. It seemed then to be a larger imitation of the stuffed eagle’s eye which lours so glumly from a niche in the public library. In winter, however, it is the false eye and not the true which throbs unbearably making him morose and foul-mouthed until he has applied a little brandy to his stomach. Scobie is a sort of protozoic profile in fog and rain, for he carries with him a sort of English weather, and he is never happier than when he can sit over a microscopic wood-fire in winter and talk. One by one his memories leak through the faulty machinery of his mind until he no longer knows them for his own. Behind him I see the long grey rollers of the Atlantic at work, curling up over his memories, smothering them in spray, blinding him. When he speaks of the past it is in a series of short dim telegrams — as if already communications were poor, the weather inimical to transmission. In Dawson City the ten who went up the river were frozen to death. Winter came down like a hammer, beating them senseless: whisky, gold, murder — it was like a new crusade northward into the timberlands. At this time his brother fell over the falls in Uganda; in his dream he saw the tiny figure, like a fly, fall and at once get smoothed out by the yellow claw of water. No: that was later when he was already staring along the sights of a carbine into the very brain-box of a Boer. He tries to remember exactly when it must have been, dropping his polished head into his hands; but the grey rollers intervene, the long effortless tides patrol the barrier between himself and his memory. That is why the phrase came to me: a sea-change for the old pirate: his skull looks palped and sucked down until only the thinnest integument separates his smile from the smile of the hidden skeleton. Observe the brain-case with its heavy indentations: the twigs of bone inside his wax fingers, the rods of tallow which support his quivering shins…. Really, as Clea has remarked, old Scobie is like some little old experimental engine left over from the last century, something as pathetic and friendly as Stephenson’s first Rocket. He lives in his little sloping attic like an anchorite. ‘An anchorite!’ that is another favourite phrase; he will pop his cheek vulgarly with his finger as he utters it, allowing his rolling eye to insinuate all the feminine indulgences he permits himself in secret. This is for Clea’s benefit, however; in the presence of ‘a perfect lady’ he feels obliged to assume a protective colouring which he sheds the moment she leaves. The truth is somewhat sadder. ‘I’ve done quite a bit of scout-mastering’ he admits to me sotto voce ‘with the Hackney Troop. That was after I was invalided out. But I had to keep out of England, old boy. The strain was too much for me. Every week I expected to see a headline in the News of the World, “Another youthful victim of scoutmaster’s dirty wish.” Down in Hackney things didn’t matter so much. My kids were experts in woodcraft. Proper young Etonians I used to call them. The scoutmaster before me got twenty years. It’s enough to make one have Doubts. These things made you think. Somehow I couldn’t settle down in Hackney. Mind you, I’m a bit past everything now but I do like to have my peace of mind — just in case. And somehow in England one doesn’t feel free any more. Look at the way they are pulling up clergymen, respected churchmen and so on. I used to lie awake worrying. Finally I came abroad as a private tooter — Tony Mannering, his father was an M.P., wanted an excuse to travel. They said he had to have a tooter. He wanted to go into the Navy. That’s how I fetched up here. I saw at once it was nice and free-and-easy here. Got a job right off with the Vice Squad under Nimrod Pasha. And here I am, dear boy. And no complaints do you see? Looking from east to west over this fertile Delta what do I see? Mile upon mile of angelic little black bottoms.’ The Egyptian Government, with the typical generous quixotry the Levant lavishes on any foreigner who shows a little warmth and friendliness, had offered him a means to live on in Alexandria. It is said that after his appointment to the Vice Squad vice assumed such alarming proportions that it was found necessary to up-grade and transfer him; but he himself always maintained that his transfer to the routine C.I.D. branch of the police had been a deserved promotion — and I for my part have never had the courage to tease him on the subject. His work is not onerous. For a couple of hours every morning he works in a ramshackle office in the upper quarter of the town, with the fleas jumping out of the rotten woodwork of his old-fashioned desk. He lunches modestly at the Lutetia and, funds permitting, buys himself an apple and a bottle of brandy for his evening meal there. The long fierce summer afternoons are spent in sleep, in turning over the newspapers which he borrows from a friendly Greek newsvendor. (As he reads the pulse in the top of his skull beats softly.) Ripeness is all. The furnishing of his little room suggests a highly eclectic spirit; the few objects which adorn the anchorite’s life have a severely personal flavour, as if together they composed the personality of their owner. That is why Clea’s portrait gives such a feeling of completeness, for she has worked into the background the whole sum of the old man’s possessions. The shabby little crucifix on the wall behind the bed, for example; it is some years since Scobie accepted the consolations of the Holy Roman Church against old age and those defects of character which had by this time become second nature. Nearby hangs a small print of the Mona Lisa whose enigmatic smile has always reminded Scobie of his mother. (For my part the famous smile has always seemed to me to be the smile of a woman who has just dined off her husband.) However this too has somehow incorporated itself into the existence of Scobie, established a special and private relationship. It is as if his Mona Lisa were like no other; it is a deserter from Leonardo. Then, of course, there is the ancient cake-stand which serves as his commode, bookcase and escritoire in one. Clea has accorded it the ungrudging treatment it deserves, painting it with a microscopic fidelity. It has four tiers, each fringed with a narrow but elegant level. It cost him ninepence farthing in the Euston Road in 1911, and it has travelled twice round the world with him. He will help you admire it without a trace of humour or self-consciousness. ‘Fetching little thing, what?’ he will say jauntily, as he takes a cloth and dusts it. The top tier, he will explain carefully, was designed for buttered toast: the middle for shortbreads: the bottom tier is for ‘two kinds of cake’. At the moment, however, it is fulfilling another purpose. On the top shelf he his telescope, compass and Bible; on the middle tier lies his correspondence which consists only of his pension envelope; on the bottom tier, with tremendous gravity, lies a chamber-pot which is always referred to as ‘the heirloom’, and to which is attached a mysterious story which he will one day confide to me. The room is lit by one weak electric-light bulb and a cluster of rush lights standing in a niche which also houses an earthenware jar full of cool drinking water. The one uncurtained window looks blindly out upon a sad peeling wall of mud. Lying in bed with the smoky feeble glare of the night-lights glinting in the glass of his compass — lying in bed after midnight with the brandy throbbing in his skull he reminds me of some ancient wedding-cake, waiting only for someone to lean forward and blow out the candles! His last remark at night, when one has seen him safely to bed and tucked him in — apart from the vulgar ‘Kiss Me Hardy’ which is always accompanied by a leer and a popped cheek — is more serious. ‘Tell me honestly’ he says. ‘Do I look my age?’ Frankly Scobie looks anybody’s age; older than the birth of tragedy, younger than the Athenian death. Spawned in the Ark by a chance meeting and mating of the bear and the ostrich; delivered before term by the sickening grunt of the keel on Ararat. Scobie came forth from the womb in a wheel chair with rubber tyres, dressed in a deer-stalker and a red flannel binder. On his prehensile toes the glossiest pair of elastic-sided boots. In his hand a ravaged family Bible whose fly-leaf bore the words ‘Joshua Samuel Scobie 1870. Honour thy father and thy mother’. To these possessions were added eyes like dead moons, a distinct curvature of the pirate’s spinal column, and a taste for quinqueremes. It was not blood which flowed in Scobie’s veins but green salt water, deep-sea stuff. His walk is the slow rolling grinding trudge of a saint walking on Galilee. His talk is a green-water jargon swept up in five oceans — an antique shop of polite fable bristling with sextants, astrolabes, porpentines and isobars. When he sings, which he so often does, it is in the very accents of the Old Man of the Sea. Like a patron saint he has left little pieces of his flesh all over the world, in Zanzibar, Colombo, Togoland, Wu Fu: the little deciduous morsels which he has been shedding for so long now, old antlers, cuff-links, teeth, hair…. Now the retreating tide has left him high and dry above the speeding currents of time, Joshua the insolvent weather-man, the islander, the anchorite.Chapter IIIThe same mental suburbs slip from youth to age,In the early summer I received a letter from Clea with which this brief memorial to Alexandria may well be brought to aIclose. It was unexpected. ‘Tashkent, Syria ‘Your letter, so unexpected after a silence which I feared might endure all through life, followed me out of Persia to this small house perched high on a hillside among the cedars and pines. I have taken it for a few months in order to try my hand and brush on these odd mountains — rocks bursting with fresh water and Mediterranean flowers. Turtle doves by day and nightingales by night. What a relief after the dust. How long is it? Ah, my dear friend, I trembled a little as I slit open the envelope. Why? I was afraid that what you might have to say would drag me back by the hair to old places and scenes long since abandoned; the old stations and sites of the personality which belonged to the Alexandrian Clea you knew — not to me any longer, or at any rate, not wholly. I’ve changed. A new woman, certainly a new painter is emerging, still a bit tender and shy like the horns of a snail — but new. A whole new world of experience stands between us…. How could you know all this? You would perhaps be writing to Clea, the old Clea; what would I find to say to you in reply? I put off reading your letter until tonight. It touched me and reply I must: so here it is — my own letter written at odd times, between painting sessions, or at night when I light the stove and make my dinner. Today is a good day to begin it for it is raining — and the whole mountain side is under the hush of the rain and the noise of swollen springs. The trees are alive with giant snails. ‘So Balthazar has been disturbing you with his troublesome new information? I am not sure that I approve. It may be good for you, but surely not for your book or books which must, I suppose, put us all in a very special position regarding reality. I mean as “characters” rather than human beings. No? And why, you ask me, did I never tell you a tithe of the things you know now? One never does, you know, one never does. As a spectator standing equidistant between two friends or lovers one is always torn by friendship to intervene, to interfere — but one never does. Rightly. How could I tell you what I knew of Justine — or for that matter what I felt about your neglect of Melissa? The very range of my sympathies for the three of you precluded it. As for love, it is so paradoxical a creature and so satisfying in itself that it would not have been much altered by the intervention of truths from outside. I am sure now, if you analyse your feelings, you will find you love Justine better because she betrayed you! The whore is man’s true darling, as I once told you, and we are born to love those who most wound us. Am I wrong? Besides, my own affection for you lay in another quarter. I was jealous of you as a writer — and as a writer I wanted you to myself and did so keep you. Do you see? ‘There is nothing I can do to help you now — I mean help your book. You will either have to ignore the data which Balthazar has so wickedly supplied, or to “rework reality” as you put it. ‘And you say you were unjust to Pursewarden; yes, but it is not important. He was equally unjust to you. Unknown to either of you, you joined hands in me! As writers. My only regret is that he did not manage to finish the last volume of God is a Humorist according to plan. It is a loss — though it cannot detract from his achievement. You, I surmise, will soon be coming into the same degree of self-possession — perhaps through this cursed city of ours, Alexandria, to which we most belong when we most hate it. By the way, I have a letter from Pursewarden about the missing volume which I have carried around with me among my papers for ages, like a talisman. It helps not only to revive the man himself a bit, but to revive me also when I fall into a depression about my work. (I must go to the village to buy eggs. I shall copy it out tonight for you.) ‘Later. Here is the letter I spoke about, harsh and crabbed if you like, but none the less typical of our friend. Don’t take his remarks about you too seriously. He admired you and believed in you — so he once told me. Perhaps he was lying. Anyway. ‘Mount Vulture Hotel ‘Alexandria ‘My dear Clea: ‘A surprise and delight to find your letter waiting for me. Clement reader thank you — not for the blame or praise (one shrinks from both equally) but for being there, devoted and watchful, a true reader between the lines — where all real writing is done! I have just come hotfoot from the Café Al Aktar after listening to a long discursion on “the novel” by old Lineaments and Keats and Pombal. They talk as if every novel wasn’t sui generis — it is as meaningless to me as Pombal generalizing about “les femmes” as a race; for after all it isn’t the family relationship which really matters. Well, Lineaments was saying that Redemption and Original Sin were the new topics and that the writer of today…. Ouf! I fled, feeling like the writer of the day before yesterday, and unwilling to help them build this sort of mud-pie. ‘I’m sure old Lineaments will do a lovely novel about Original Sin and score what I always privately call a suck-eggs d’estime (it means not covering one’s advance). In fact, I was in such despair at the thought of his coming fame that I thought I would go straight off to a brothel and expiate my unoriginal sense of sin right away. But the hour was early, and besides, I felt that I smelt of sweat for it has been a hot day. I therefore returned to the hotel for a shower and a change of shirt and so found your letter. There is a little gin in the bottle and as I don’t know where I shall be later on I think I’ll just sit down and answer you now as best I can until six when the brothels start to open. ‘The questions you ask me, my dear Clea, are the very questions I am putting myself. I must get them a little clearer before I tidy up the last volume in which I want above all to combine, resolve and harmonize the tensions so far created. I feel I want to sound a note of … affirmation — though not in the specific terms of a philosophy or religion. It should have the curvature of an embrace, the wordlessness of a lover’s code. It should convey some feeling that the world we live in is founded in something too simple to be over-described as cosmic law — but as easy to grasp as, say, an act of tenderness, simple tenderness in the primal relation between animal and plant, rain and soil, seed and trees, man and God. A relationship so delicate that it is all too easily broken by the inquiring mind and conscience in the French sense which of course has its own rights and its own field of deployment. I’d like to think of my work simply as a cradle in which philosophy could rock itself to sleep, thumb in mouth. What do you say to this? After all, this is not simply what we most need in the world, but really what describes the state of pure process in it. Keep silent awhile and you feel a comprehension of this act of tenderness — not power or glory: and certainly not Mercy, that vulgarity of the Jewish mind which can only imagine man as crouching under the whip. No, for the sort of tenderness I mean is utterly merciless! “A law unto itself” as we say. Of course, one must always remember that truth itself is always halved in utterance. Yet I must in this last book insist that there is hope for man, scope for man, within the boundaries of a simple law; and I seem to see mankind as gradually appropriating to itself the necessary information through mere attention, not reason, which may one day enable it to live within the terms of such an idea — the true meaning of “joy unconfined”. How could joy be anything else? This new creature we artists are hunting for will not “live” so much as, like time itself, simply “elapse”. Damn, it’s hard to say these things. Perhaps the key lies in laughter, in the Humorous God? It is after all the serious who disturb the peace of the heart with their antics — like Justine. (Wait. I must fix myself a ration of gin.) ‘I think it better for us to steer clear of the big oblong words like Beauty and Truth and so on. Do you mind? We are all so silly and feeble-witted when it comes to living, but giants when it comes to pronouncing on the universe. Sufflaminandus erat. Like you, I have two problems which interconnect: my art and my life. Now in my life I am somewhat irresolute and shabby, but in my art I am free to be what I most desire to seem — someone who might bring resolution and harmony into the dying lives around me. In my art, indeed, through my art, I want really to achieve myself by shedding the work, which is of no importance, as a snake sheds its skin. Perhaps that’s why writers at heart want to be loved for their work rather than for themselves — do you think? But then this presupposes a new order of woman too. Where is she? ‘These, my dear Clea, are some of the perplexities of your omniscient friend, the classical head and romantic heart of Ludwig Pursewarden. ‘Ouf! It is late and the oil in the lamp is low. I must leave this letter for tonight. Tomorrow perhaps, if I am in the mood after my shopping, I shall write a little more; if not, not. Wise one, how much better it would be if we could talk. I feel I have whole conversations stacked inside me, lying unused! I think it is perhaps the only real lack of which one is conscious in living alone; the mediating power of a friend’s thoughts to place beside one’s own, just to see if they match! The lonely become autocratic, as they must, and their judgements ex cathedra in the very nature of things: and perhaps this is not altogether good for the work. But here at least we will be well-matched, you on your island — which is only a sort of metaphor like Descartes’ oven, isn’t it? — and I in my fairy-tale hut among the mountains. ‘Last week a man appeared among the trees, also a painter, and my heart began to beat unwontedly fast. I felt the sudden predisposition to fall in love — reasoning thus, I suppose: “If one has gone so far from the world and one finds a man in that place, must he not be the one person destined to share one’s solitude, brought to this very place by the invisible power of one’s selfless longing and destined specially for oneself?” Dangerous self-delusive tricks the heart plays on itself, always tormented by the desire to be loved! Balthazar claimed once that he could induce love as a control-experiment by a simple action: namely telling each of two people who had never met that the other was dying to meet them, had never seen anyone so attractive, and so on. This was, he claimed infallible as a means of making them fall in love: they always did. What do you say? ‘At any rate, my own misgivings saved me from the youth who was, I will admit, handsome and indeed quite intelligent, and would have done me good, I think, as a lover — perhaps for a single summer. But when I saw his paintings I felt my soul grow hard and strong and separate again; through them I read his whole personality as one can read a handwriting or a face. I saw weakness and poverty of heart and a power to do mischief. So I said goodbye there and then. The poor youth kept repeating: “Have I done anything to offend you, have I said anything?” What could I reply — for there was nothing he could do about the offence except live it out, paint it out; but that presupposed becoming conscious of its very existence within himself. ‘I returned to my hut and locked myself in with real relief. He came at midnight and tried the door. I shouted “Go away,” and he obeyed. This morning I saw him leaving on the bus, but I did not even wave good-bye. I found myself whistling happily, nay, almost dancing, as I walked to town across the forest to get my provisions. It is wonderful whenever one can overcome one’s treacherous heart. Then I went home and was hardly in the door when I picked up a brush and started on the painting which has been holding me up for nearly a month; all the ways were clear, all the relations in play. The mysterious obstacle had vanished. Who can say it was not due to our painter friend and the love affair I did not have? I am still humming a tune as I write these words to you…. ‘Later: re-reading your letter, why do you go on so, I wonder, about Pursewarden’s death? It puzzles me, for in a way it is a sort of vulgarity to do so. I mean that surely it is not within your competence or mine to pass an open judgement on it? All we can say is that his art overleaps the barrier. For the rest, it seems to me to be his own private property. We should not only respect his privacy in such matters but help him to defend it against the unfeeling. They are his own secrets, after all, for what we actually saw in him was only the human disguise that the artist wore (as in his own character, old Parr, the hopeless sensualist of volume two who turns out in the end to be the one who painted the disputed fresco of the Last Supper — remember?) ‘In much the same sort of way, Pursewarden carried the secret of his everyday life over into the grave with him, leaving us only his books to marvel at and his epitaph to puzzle over: “Here lies an intruder from the East.” ‘No. No. The death of an artist is quite unassailable. One can only smile and bow. ‘As for Scobie, you are right in what you say. I was terribly upset when Balthazar told me that he had fallen down those stairs at the central Quism and killed himself. Yes, I took his parrot, which by the way was inhabited by the old man’s spirit for a long time afterwards. It reproduced with perfect fidelity the way he got up in the morning singing a snatch of “Taisez-vous, petit babouin” (do you remember) and even managed to imitate the dismal cracking of the old man’s bones as he got out of bed. But then the memory gradually wore out, like an old disc, and he seemed to do it less often and with less sureness of voice. It was like Scobie himself dying very gradually into silence: this is how I suppose one dies to one’s friends and to the world, wearing out like an old dance tune or a memorable conversation with a philosopher under a cherry-tree. Being refunded into silence. And finally the bird itself went into a decline and died with its head under its wing. I was so sorry, yet so glad. ‘For us, the living, the problem is of a totally different order: how to harness time in the cultivation of a style of heart — something like that? I am only trying to express it. Not to force time, as the weak do, for that spells self-injury and dismay, but to harness its rhythms and put them to our own use. Pursewarden used to say: “God give us artists resolution and tact”; to which I myself would say a very hearty Amen. ‘But by now you will think that I have simply become an opinionated old shrew. Perhaps I have. What does it matter, provided one can get a single idea across to oneself? ‘There is so little time; with the news from Europe becoming worse every day I feel an autumnal quality in the days — as if they were settling towards an unpredictable future. And side by side with this feeling, I also feel the threads tightening in our sleeves, so to speak, drawing us slowly back towards the centre of the stage once more. Where could this be but to Alexandria? But perhaps it will prove to be a new city, different to the one which has for so long imposed itself on our dreams. I would like to think that, for the old one and all it symbolized is, if not dead, at least meaningless to the person I now feel myself to be. Perhaps you too have changed by the same token. Perhaps your book too has changed. Or perhaps you, more than any of us, need to see the city again, need to see us again. We, for our part, very much need to see you again and refresh the friendship which we hope exists the other side of the writing — if indeed an author can ever be just a friend to his “characters”. I say “we”, writing in the Imperial Style as if I were a Queen, but you will guess that I mean, simply, both the old Clea and the new — for both have need of you in a future which….’ There are a few more lines and then the affectionate superscription. Chapter XIMountolive was away on an official tour of the cotton-ginning plants in the Delta when the news was phoned through to him by Telford. Between incredulity and shock, he could hardly believe his ears. Telford spoke self-importantly in the curious slushy voice which his ill-fitting dentures conferred upon him; death was a matter of some importance in his trade. But the death of an enemy! He had to work hard to keep his tone sombre, grave, sympathetic, to keep the self-congratulation out of it. He spoke like a county coroner. ‘I thought you’d like to know, sir, so I took the liberty of interrupting your visit. Nimrod Pasha phoned me in the middle of the night and I went along. The police had already sealed up the place for the Parquet inquiry; Dr Balthazar was there. I had a look around while he issued the certificate of death. I was allowed to bring away a lot of personal papers belonging to the … the deceased. Nothing of much interest. Manuscript of a novel. The whole business came as a complete surprise. He had been drinking very heavily — as usual, I’m afraid. Yes.’ ‘But …’ said Mountolive feebly, the rage and incredulity mixing in his mind like oil and water. ‘What on earth….’ His legs felt weak. He drew up a chair and sat down at the telephone crying peevishly: ‘Yes, yes, Telford — go on. Tell me what you can.’ Telford cleared his throat, aware of the interest his news was creating, and tried to marshal the facts in his fuddled brain. ‘Well, sir, we have traced his movements. He came up here, very unshaven and haggard (Errol tells me) and asked for you. But you had just left. Your secretary says that he sat down at your desk and wrote something — it took him some time — which he said was to be delivered to you personally. He insisted on her franking it “Secret” and sealing it up with wax. It is in your safe now. Then he appears to have gone off on a … well, a binge. He spent all day at a tavern on the seashore near Montaza which he often visited. It’s just a shack down by the sea — a few timbers with a palm-leaf roof, run by a Greek. He spent the whole day there writing and drinking. He drank quite a lot of zibib according to the proprietor. He had a table set right down by the sea-shore in the sand. It was windy and the man suggested he would be better off in the shelter. But no. He sat there by the sea. In the late afternoon he ate a sandwich and took a tram back to town. He called on me.’ ‘Good: well.’ Telford hesitated and gasped. ‘He came to the office. I must say that although unshaven he seemed in very good spirits. He made a few jokes. But he asked me for a cyanide tablet — you know the kind. I won’t say any more. This line isn’t really secure. You will understand, sir.’ ‘Yes, yes’ cried Mountolive. ‘Go on, man.’ Reassured Telford continued breathlessly: ‘He said he wanted to poison a sick dog. It seemed reasonable enough, so I gave him one. That is probably what he used according to Dr Balthazar. I hope you don’t feel, sir, that I was in any way….’ Mountolive felt nothing except a mounting indignation that anyone in his mission should confer such annoyance by a public act so flagrant! No, this was silly. ‘It is stupid’ he whispered to himself. But he could not help feeling that Pursewarden had been guilty of something. Damn it, it was inconsiderate and underbred — as well as being mysterious. Kenilworth’s face floated before him for a moment. He joggled the receiver to get a clear contact, and shouted: ‘But what does it all mean?’ ‘I don’t know’ said Telford, helplessly. ‘It’s rather mysterious.’ A pale Mountolive turned and made some muttered apologies to the little group of pashas who stood about the telephone in that dreary outhouse. Immediately they spread self-deprecating hands like a flock of doves taking flight. There was no inconvenience. An Ambassador was expected to be entrained in great events. They could wait. ‘Telford’ said Mountolive, sharply and angrily. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Tell me what else you know.’ Telford cleared his throat and went on in his slushy voice: ‘Well, there isn’t anything of exceptional importance from my point of view. The last person to see him alive was that man Darley, the schoolteacher. You probably don’t know him, sir. Well, he met him on the way back to the hotel. He invited Darley in for a drink and they stayed talking for some considerable time and drinking gin. In the hotel. The deceased said nothing of any special interest — and certainly nothing to suggest that he was planning to take his own life. On the contrary, he said he was going to take the night train to Gaza for a holiday. He showed Darley the proofs of his latest novel, all wrapped up and addressed, and a mackintosh full of things he might need for the journey — pyjamas, toothpaste. What made him change his mind? I don’t know, sir, but the answer may be in your safe. That is why I rang you.’ ‘I see’ said Mountolive. It was strange, but already he was beginning to get used to the idea of Pursewarden’s disappearance from the scene. The shock was abating, diminishing: only the mystery remained. Telford still spluttered on the line. ‘Yes’ he said, recovering mastery of himself. ‘Yes.’ It was only a matter of moments before Mountolive recovered his demure official pose and reoriented himself to take a benign interest in the mills and their thumping machinery. He worked hard not to seem too abstracted and to seem suitably impressed by what was shown to him. He tried too to analyse the absurdity of his anger against Pursewarden having committed an act which seemed … a gross solecism! How absurd. Yet, as an act, it was somehow typical because so inconsiderate: perhaps he should have anticipated it? Profound depression alternated with his feelings of anger. He motored back in haste, full of an urgent expectancy, an unease. It was almost as if he were going to take Pursewarden to task, demand an explanation of him, administer a well-earned reproof. He arrived to find that the Chancery was just closing, though the industrious Errol was still busy upon State papers in his office. Everyone down to the cipher clerks seemed to be afflicted by the air of gravid depression which sudden death always confers upon the uncomfortably living. He deliberately forced himself to walk slowly, talk slowly, not to hurry. Haste, like emotion, was always deplorable because it suggested that impulse or feeling was master where only reason should rule. His secretary had already left but he obtained the keys to his safe from Archives and sedately walked up the two short flights to his office. Heartbeats are mercifully inaudible to anyone but oneself. The dead man’s ‘effects’ (the poetry of causality could not be better expressed than by the word) were stacked on his desk, looking curiously disembodied. A bundle of papers and manuscript, a parcel addressed to a publisher, a mackintosh and various odds and ends conscripted by the painstaking Telford in the interests of truth (though they had little beauty for Mountolive). He got a tremendous start when he saw Pursewarden’s bloodless features staring up at him from his blotter — a death-mask in plaster of Paris with a note from Balthazar saying ‘I took the liberty of making an impression of the face after death. I trust this will seem sensible.’ Pursewarden’s face! From some angles death can look like a fit of the sulks. Mountolive touched the effigy with reluctance, superstitiously, moving it this way and that. His flesh crept with a small sense of loathing; he realized suddenly that he was afraid of death. Then to the safe with its envelope whose clumsy seals he cracked with a trembling thumb as he sat at his desk. Here at least he should find some sort of rational exegesis for this gross default of good manners! He drew a deep breath. My dear David, I have torn up half a dozen other attempts to explain this in detail. I found I was only making literature. There is quite enough about. My decision has to do with life. Paradox! I am terribly sorry, old man. Quite by accident, in an unexpected quarter, I stumbled upon something which told me that Maskelyne’s theories about Nessim were right, mine wrong. I do not give you my sources, and will not. But I now realize Nessim is smuggling arms into Palestine and has been for some time. He is obviously the unknown source, deeply implicated in the operations which were described in Paper Seven — you will remember. (Secret Mandate File 341. Intelligence.) But I simply am not equal to facing the simpler moral implications raised by this discovery. I know what has to be done about it. But the man happens to be my friend. Therefore … a quietus. (This will solve other deeper problems too.) Ach! what a boring world we have created around us. The slime of plot and counter-plot. I have just recognized that it is not my world at all. (I can hear you swearing as you read.) I feel in a way a cad to shelve my own responsibilities like this, and yet, in truth, I know that they are not really mine, never have been mine. But they are yours! And jolly bitter you will find them. But … you are of the career … and you must act where I cannot bring myself to! I know I am wanting in a sense of duty, but I have let Nessim know obliquely that his game has been spotted and the information passed on. Of course, in this vague form you could also be right in suppressing it altogether, forgetting it. I don’t envy you your temptations. Mine, however, not to reason why. I’m tired, my dear chap; sick unto death, as the living say. And so … Will you give my sister my love and say that my thoughts were with her? Thank you. Affectionately yours, L. P. Mountolive was aghast. He felt himself turning pale as he read. Then he sat for a long time staring at the expression on the face of the death-mask — the characteristic air of solitary impertinence which Pursewarden’s profile always wore in repose; and still obstinately struggling with the absurd sense of diplomatic outrage which played about his mind, flickering like stabs of sheet-lightning. ‘It is folly!’ he cried aloud with vexation, as he banged the desk with the flat of his hand. ‘Utter folly! Nobody kills himself for an official reason!’ He cursed the stupidity of the words as he uttered them. For the first time complete confusion overtook his mind. In order to calm it he forced himself to read Telford’s typed report slowly and carefully, spelling out the words to himself with moving lips, as if it were an exercise. It was an account of Pursewarden’s movements during the twenty-four hours before his death with depositions by the various people who had seen him. Some of the reports were interesting, notably that of Balthazar who had seen him during the morning in the Café Al Aktar where Pursewarden was drinking arak and eating a croissant. He had apparently received a letter from his sister that morning and was reading it with an air of grave preoccupation. He put it in his pocket abruptly when Balthazar arrived. He was extremely unshaven and haggard. There seemed little enough of interest in the conversation which ensued save for one remark (probably a jest?) which stayed in Balthazar’s memory. Pursewarden had been dancing with Melissa the evening before and said something about her being a desirable person to marry. (‘This must have been a joke’ added Balthazar.) He also said that he had started another book ‘all about Love’. Mountolive sighed as he slowly ran his eye down the typed page. Love! Then came an odd thing. He had bought a printed Will form and filled it in, making his sister his literary executor, and bequeathing five hundred pounds to the schoolteacher Darley and his mistress. This, for some reason, he had antedated by a couple of months — perhaps he forgot the date? He had asked two cipher clerks to witness it. The letter from his sister was there also, but Telford had tactfully put it into a separate envelope and sealed it. Mountolive read it, shaking his bewildered head, and then thrust it into his pocket shamefacedly. He licked his lips and frowned heavily at the wall. Liza! Errol put his head timidly round the door and was shocked to surprise tears upon the cheek of his Chief. He ducked back tactfully and retreated hastily to his office, deeply shaken by a sense of diplomatic inappropriateness somewhat similar to the feelings which Mountolive himself had encountered when Telford telephoned him. Errol sat at his desk with attentive nervousness thinking: ‘A good diplomat should never show feeling.’ Then he lit a cigarette with sombre deliberation. For the first time he realized that his Ambassador had feet of clay. This increased his sense of self-respect somewhat. Mountolive was, after all, only a man…. Nevertheless, the experience had been disorienting. Upstairs Mountolive too had lighted a cigarette in order to calm his nerves. The accent of his apprehension was slowly transferring itself from the bare act of Pursewarden (this inconvenient plunge into anonymity) — was transferring itself to the central meaning of the act — to the tidings it brought with it. Nessim! And here he felt his own soul shrink and contract and a deeper, more inarticulate anger beset him. He had trusted Nessim! (‘Why?’ said the inner voice. ‘There was no need to do so.’) And then, by this wicked somersault, Pursewarden had, in effect, transferred the whole weight of the moral problem to Mountolive’s own shoulders. He had started up the hornets’ nest: the old conflict between duty, reason and personal affection which every political man knows is his cross, the central weakness of his life! What a swine, he thought (almost admiringly), Purse-warden had been to transfer it all so easily — the enticing ease of such a decision: withdrawal! He added sadly: ‘I trusted Nessim because of Leila!’ Vexation upon vexation. He smoked and stared now, seeing in the dead white plaster face (which the loving hands of Clea had printed from Balthazar’s clumsy negative) the warm living face of Leila’s son: the dark abstract features from a Ravenna fresco! The face of his friend. And then, his very thoughts uttered themselves in whispers: ‘Perhaps after all Leila is at the bottom of everything.’ (‘Diplomats have no real friends’ Grishkin had said bitterly, trying to wound him, to rouse him. ‘They use everyone.’ He had used, she was implying, her body and her beauty: and now that she was pregnant….) He exhaled slowly and deeply, invigorated by the nicotine-laden oxygen which gave his nerves time to settle, his brain time to clear. As the mist lifted he discerned something like a new landscape opening before him; for here was something which could not help but alter all the dispositions of chance and friendship, alter every date on the affectionate calendar his mind had compiled about his stay in Egypt: the tennis and swimming and riding. Even these simple motions of joining with the ordinary world of social habit and pleasure, of relieving the medium vitae of his isolation, were all infected by the new knowledge. Moreover, what was to be done with the information which Pursewarden had so unceremoniously thrust into his lap? It must be of course reported. Here he was able to pause. Must it be reported? The data in the letter lacked any shred of supporting evidence — except perhaps the overwhelming evidence of a death which…. He lit a cigarette and whispered the words: ‘While the balance of his mind was disturbed.’ That at least was worth a grim smile! After all, the suicide of a political officer was not such an uncommon event; there had been that youth Greaves, in love with a cabaret-girl in Russia…. Somehow he still felt aggrieved at so malicious a betrayal of his friendship for the writer. Very well. Suppose he simply burnt the letter, disposing with the weight of moral onus it bore? It could be done quite simply, in his own grate, with the aid of a safety-match. He could continue to behave as if no such revelation had ever been made — except for the fact that Nessim knew it had! No, he was trapped. And here his sense of duty, like ill-fitting shoes, began to pinch him at every step. He thought of Justine and Nessim dancing together, silently, blindly, their dark faces turned away from each other, eyes half-closed. They had attained a new dimension in his view of them already — the unsentimental projection of figures in a primitive fresco. Presumably they also struggled with a sense of duty and responsibility — to whom? ‘To themselves, perhaps’ he whispered sadly, shaking his head. He would never be able to meet Nessim eye to eye again. It suddenly dawned on him. Up to now their personal relationship had been forced from any prejudicial cast by Nessim’s tact — and Pursewarden’s existence. The writer, in supplying the official link, had freed them in the personal lives. Never had the two men been forced to discuss anything remotely connected with official matters. Now they could not meet upon this happy ground. In this context too Pursewarden had traduced his freedom. As for Leila, perhaps here lay the key to her enigmatic silence, her inability to meet him face to face. Sighing, he rang for Errol. ‘You’d better glance at this’ he said. His Head of Chancery sat himself down and began to read the document greedily. He nodded slowly from time to time. Mount-olive cleared his throat: ‘It seems pretty incoherent to me’ he said, despising himself for so trying to cast a doubt upon the clear words, to influence Errol in a judgement which, in his own secret mind, he had already made. Errol read it twice slowly, and handed it back across the desk. ‘It seems pretty extraordinary’ he said tentatively, respectfully. It was not his place to offer evaluations of the message. They must by rights come from his Chief. ‘It all seems a bit out of proportion’ he added helpfully, feeling his way. Mountolive said sombrely: ‘I’m afraid it is typical of Purse-warden. It makes me sorry that I never took up your original recommendations about him. I was wrong, it seems, and you were right about his suitability.’ Errol’s eye glinted with modest triumph. He said nothing, however, as he stared at Mountolive. ‘Of course,’ said the latter, ‘as you well know, Hosnani has been suspect for some time.’ ‘I know, sir.’ ‘But there is no evidence here to support what he says.’ He tapped the letter irritably twice. Errol sat back and breathed through his nose. ‘I don’t know’ he said vaguely. ‘It sounds pretty conclusive to me.’ ‘I don’t think’ said Mountolive ‘it would support a paper. Of course we’ll report it to London as it stands. But I’m inclined not to give it to the Parquet to help them with their inquest. What do you say?’ Errol cradled his knees. A slow smile of cunning crept around his mouth. ‘It might be the best way of getting it to the Egyptians’ he said softly, ‘and they might choose to act on it. Of course, it would obviate the diplomatic pressure we might have to bring if … later on, the whole thing came out in a more concrete form. I know Hosnani was a friend of yours, sir.’ Mountolive felt himself colouring slightly. ‘In matters of business, a diplomat has no friends’ he said stiffly, feeling that he spoke in the very accents of Pontius Pilate. ‘Quite, sir.’ Errol gazed at him admiringly. ‘Once Hosnani’s guilt is established we shall have to act. But without supporting evidence we should find ourselves in a weak position. With Memlik Pasha — you know he isn’t very pro-British … I’m thinking….’ ‘Yes, sir?’ Mountolive waited, drinking the air like a wild animal, scenting that Errol was beginning to approve his judgement. They sat silently in the dusk for a while, thinking. Then, with a histrionic snap, the Ambassador switched on the desk-light and said decisively: ‘If you agree, we’ll keep this out of Egyptian hands until we are better documented. London must have it. Classified of course. But not private persons, even next-of-kin. By the way, are you capable of undertaking the next-of-kin correspondence? I leave it to you to make up something.’ He felt a pang as he saw Liza Pursewarden’s face rise up before him. ‘Yes. I have his file here. There is only a sister at the Imperial Institute for the Blind, I think, apart from his wife.’ Errol fussily consulted a green folder, but Mountolive said ‘Yes, yes. I know her.’ Errol stood up. Mountolive added: ‘And I think in all fairness we should copy to Maskelyne in Jerusalem, don’t you?’ ‘Most certainly, sir.’ ‘And for the moment keep our own counsel?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Thank you very much’ said Mountolive with unusual warmth. He felt all of a sudden very old and frail. Indeed he felt so weak that he doubted if his limbs could carry him downstairs to the Residence. ‘That is all at present.’ Errol took his leave, closing the door behind him with the gravity of a mute. Mountolive telephoned to the buttery and ordered himself a glass of beef-tea and biscuits. He ate and drank ravenously, staring the while at the white mask and the manuscript of a novel. He felt both a deep disgust and a sense of enormous bereavement — he could not tell which lay uppermost. Unwittingly, too, Pursewarden had, he reflected, separated him forever from Leila. Yes, that also, and perhaps forever. That night, however, he made his witty prepared speech (written by Errol) to the Alexandrian Chamber of Commerce, delighting the assembled bankers by his fluent French. The clapping swelled and expanded in the august banquet room of the Mohammed Ali Club. Nessim, seated at the opposite end of the long table, undertook the response with gravity and a calm address. Once or twice during the dinner Mountolive felt the dark eyes of his friend seeking his own, interrogating them, but he evaded them. A chasm now yawned between them which neither would know how to bridge. After dinner, he met Nessim briefly in the hall as he was putting on his coat. He suddenly felt the almost irresistible desire to refer to Pursewarden’s death. The subject obtruded itself so starkly, stuck up jaggedly into the air between them. It shamed him as a physical deformity might; as if his handsome smile were disfigured by a missing front tooth. He said nothing and neither did Nessim. Nothing of what was going on beneath the surface showed in the elastic and capable manner of the two tall men who stood smoking by the front door, waiting for the car to arrive. But a new watchful, obdurate knowledge had been born between them. How strange that a few words scribbled on a piece of paper should make them enemies! Then leaning back in his beflagged car, drawing softly on an excellent cigar, Mountolive felt his innermost soul become as dusty, as airless as an Egyptian tomb. It was strange too that side by side with these deeper preoccupations the shallower should coexist; he was delighted by the extent of his success in captivating the bankers! He had been undeniably brilliant. Discreetly circulated copies of his speech would, he knew, be printed verbatim in tomorrow’s papers, illustrated by new photographs of himself. The Corps would be envious as usual. Why had nobody thought of making a public statement about the Gold Standard in this oblique fashion? He tried to keep his mind effervescent, solidly anchored to this level of self-congratulation, but it was useless. The Embassy would soon be moving back to its winter quarters. He had not seen Leila. Would he ever see her again? Somewhere inside himself a barrier had collapsed, a dam had been broached. He had engaged upon a new conflict with himself which gave a new tautness to his features, a new purposeful rhythm to his walk. That night he was visited by an excruciating attack of the earache with which he always celebrated his return home. This was the first time he had ever been attacked while he was outside the stockade of his mother’s security, and the attack alarmed him. He tried ineffectually to doctor himself with the homely specific she always used, but he heated the salad oil too much by mistake and burnt himself severely in the process. He spent three restless days in bed after this incident, reading detective stories and pausing for long moments to stare at the whitewashed wall. It at least obviated his attendance at Pursewarden’s cremation — he would have been sure to meet Nessim there. Among the many messages and presents which began to flow in when the news of his indisposition became known, was a splendid bunch of flowers from Nessim and Justine, wishing him a speedy recovery. As Alexandrians and friends, they could hardly do less! He pondered deeply upon them during those long sleepless days and nights and for the first time he saw them, in the light of this new knowledge, as enigmas. They were puzzles now, and even their private moral relationship haunted him with a sense of something he had never properly understood, never clearly evaluated. Somehow his friendship for them had prevented him from thinking of them as people who might, like himself, be living on several different levels at once. As conspirators, as lovers — what was the key to the enigma? He could not guess. But perhaps the clues that he sought lay further back in the past — further than either he or Pursewarden could see from a vantage-point in the present time. There were many facts about Justine and Nessim which had not come to his knowledge — some of them critical for an understanding of their case. But in order to include them it is necessary once more to retrace our steps briefly to the period immediately before their marriage.***** Alexandria Main Station: midnight. A deathly heavy dew. The noise of wheels cracking the slime-slithering pavements. Yellow pools of phosphorous light, and corridors of darkness like tears in the dull brick fa.ade of a stage set. Policemen in the shadows. Standing against an insanitary brick wall to kiss her goodbye. She is going for a week, but in the panic, half-asleep I can see that she may never come back. The soft resolute kiss and the bright eyes fill me with emptiness. From the dark platform comes the crunch of rifle-butts and the clicking of Bengali. A detail of Indian troops on some routine transfer to Cairo. It is only as the train begins to move, and as the figure at the window, dark against the darkness, lets go of my hand, that I feel Melissa is really leaving; feel everything that is inexorably denied — the long pull of the train into the silver light reminds me of the sudden long pull of the vertebrae of her white back turning in bed. ‘Melissa’ I call out, but the giant sniffing of the engine blots out all sound. She begins to tilt, to curve and slide; and quick as a scene-shifter the station packs away advertisement after advertisement, stacking them in the darkness. I stand as if marooned on an iceberg. Beside me a tall Sikh shoulders the rifle he has stopped with a rose. The shadowy figure is sliding away down the steel rails into the darkness; a final lurch and the train pours away down a tunnel, as if turned to liquid. I walk about Moharrem-Bey that night, watching the moon cloud over, preyed upon by an inexpressible anxiety. Intense light behind cloud; by four o’clock a thin pure drizzle like needles. The poinsettias in the Consulate garden stark with silver drops standing on their stamens. No birds singing in the dawn. A light wind making the palm trees sway their necks with a faint dry formal clicking. The wonderful hushing of rain on Mareotis. Five o’clock. Walking about in her room, studying inanimate objects with intense concentration. The empty powder-boxes. The depilatories from Sardis. The smell of satin and leather. The horrible feeling of some great impending scandal…. I write these lines in very different circumstances and many months have elapsed since that night; here, under this olive-tree, in the pool of light thrown by an oil lamp, I write and relive that night which has taken its place in the enormous fund of the city’s memories. Somewhere else, in a great study hung with tawny curtains Justine was copying into her diary the terrible aphorisms of Herakleitos. The book lies beside me now. On one page she has written: ‘It is hard to fight with one’s heart’s desire; whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul.’ And lower down in the margins: ‘Night-walkers, Magians, Bakchoi, Lenai and the initiated….’Chapter IVJustine (1957) Part I Chapter 5Clea (1960) To MY FATHER 众乐三分快3彩票 The city is a cage.Turn to the open window and look downChapter IAncient lands, in all their prehistoric intactness: lake-solitudes hardly brushed by the hurrying feet of the centuries where the uninterrupted pedigrees of pelican and ibis and heron evolve their slow destinies in complete seclusion. Clover-patches of green baize swarming with snakes and clouds of mosquitoes. A landscape devoid of songbirds yet full of owls, hoopoes and kingfishers hunting by day, pluming themselves on the banks of the tawny waterways. The packs of half-wild dogs foraging, the blindfolded water-buffaloes circling the waterwheels in an eternity of darkness. The little wayside chancels built of dry mud and floored with fresh straw where the pious traveller might say a prayer as he journeyed. Egypt! The goose-winged sails scurrying among the freshets with perhaps a human voice singing a trailing snatch of song. The click-click of the wind in the Indian corn, plucking at the coarse leaves, shumbling them. Liquid mud exploded by rainstorms in the dust-laden air throwing up mirages everywhere, despoiling perspectives. A lump of mud swells to the size of a man, a man to the size of a church. Whole segments of the sky and land displace, open like a lid, or heel over on their side to turn upside down. Flocks of sheep walk in and out of these twisted mirrors, appearing and disappearing, goaded by the quivering nasal cries of invisible shepherds. A great confluence of pastoral images from the forgotten history of the old world which still lives on side by side with the one we have inherited. The clouds of silver winged ants floating up to meet and incandesce in the sunlight. The clap of a horse’s hoofs on the mud floors of this lost world echo like a pulse and the brain swims among these veils and melting rainbows. And so at last, following the curves of the green embankments you come upon an old house built sideways upon an intersection of violet canals, its cracked and faded shutters tightly fastened, its rooms hung with dervish trophies, hide shields, bloodstained spears and magnificent carpets. The gardens desolate and untended. Only the little figures on the wall move their celluloid wings — scarecrows which guard against the Evil Eye. The silence of complete desuetude. But then the whole countryside of Egypt shares this melancholy feeling of having been abandoned, allowed to run to seed, to bake and crack and moulder under the brazen sun. Turn under an arch and clatter over the cobbles of a dark courtyard. Will this be a new point of departure or a return to the starting-point? It is hard to know. D. A. F. DE SADE : Justine***** I had not read these pages of Arnauti before the afternoon at Bourg El Arab when the future of our relationship was compromised by the introduction of a new element — I do not dare to use the word love, for fear of hearing that harsh sweet laugh in my imagination: a laugh which would somewhere be echoed by the diarist. Indeed so fascinating did I find his analysis of his subject, and so closely did our relationship echo the relationship he had enjoyed with Justine that at times I too felt like some paper character out of Moeurs. Moreover, here I am, attempting to do the same sort of thing with her in words — though I lack his ability and have no pretensions to being an artist. I want to put things down simply and crudely, without style — the plaster and whitewash; for the portrait of Justine should be rough-cast, with the honest stonework of the predicament showing through. After the episode of the beach we did not meet for some small time, both of us infected by a vertiginous uncertainty — or at least I was. Nessim was called away to Cairo on business but though Justine was, as far as I knew, at home alone, I could not bring myself to visit the studio. Once as I passed I heard the Blüthner and was tempted to ring the bell — so sharply defined was the image of her at the black piano. Then once passing the garden at night I saw someone — it must have been she — walking by the lily-pond, shading a candle in the palm of one hand. I stood for a moment uncertainly before the great doors wondering whether to ring or not. Melissa at this time also had taken the occasion to visit a friend in Upper Egypt. Summer was growing apace, and the town was sweltering. I bathed as often as my work permitted, travelling to the crowded beaches in the little tin tram. Then one day while I was lying in bed with a temperature brought on by an overdose of the sun Justine walked into the dank calm of the little flat, dressed in a white frock and shoes, and carrying a rolled towel under one arm with her handbag. The magnificence of her dark skin and hair glowed out of all this whiteness with an arresting quickness. When she spoke her voice was harsh and unsteady, and it sounded for a moment as if she had been drinking — perhaps she had. She put one hand out and leaned upon the mantelshelf as she said: ‘I want to put an end to all this as soon as possible. I feel as if we’ve gone too far to go back.’ As for me I was consumed by a terrible sort of desirelessness, a luxurious anguish of body and mind which prevented me from saying anything, thinking anything. I could not visualize the act of love with her, for somehow the emotional web we had woven about each other stood between us; an invisible cobweb of loyalties, ideas, hesitations which I had not the courage to brush aside. As she took a step forward I said feebly: ‘This bed is so awful and smelly. I have been drinking. I tried to make love to myself but it was no good — I kept thinking about you,’ I felt myself turning pale as I lay silent upon my pillows, all at once conscious of the silence of the little flat which was torn in one corner by the dripping of a leaky tap. A taxi brayed once in the distance, and from the harbour, like the stifled roar of a minotaur, came a single dark whiff of sound from a siren. Now it seemed we were completely alone together. The whole room belonged to Melissa — the pitiful dressing-table full of empty powder-boxes and photos: the graceful curtain breathing softly in that breathless afternoon air like the sail of a ship. How often had we not lain in one another’s arms watching the slow intake and recoil of that transparent piece of bright linen? Across all this, the image of someone dearly loved, held in the magnification of a gigantic tear moved the brown harsh body of Justine naked. It would have been blind of me not to notice how deeply her resolution was mixed with sadness. We lay eye to eye for a long time, our bodies touching, hardly communicating more than the animal lassitude of that vanishing afternoon. I could not help thinking then as I held her tightly in the crook of an arm how little we own our bodies. I thought of the words of Arnauti when he says: ‘It dawned on me then that in some fearful way this girl had shorn me of all my force morale. I felt as if I had had my head shaved.’ But the French, I thought, with their endless gravitation between bonheur and chagrin must inevitably suffer when they come up against something which does not admit of préjugés; born for tactics and virtuosity, not for staying-power, they lack the little touch of crassness which armours the Anglo-Saxon mind. And I thought: ‘Good. Let her lead me where she will. She will find me a match for her. And there’ll be no talk of chagrin at the end.’ Then I thought of Nessim, who was watching us (though I did not know) as if through the wrong end of an enormous telescope: seeing our small figures away on the skyline of his own hopes and plans. I was anxious that he should not be hurt. But she had closed her eyes — so soft and lustrous now, as if polished by the silence which lay so densely all around us. Her trembling fingers had become steady and at ease upon my shoulder. We turned to each other, closing like the two leaves of a door upon the past, shutting out everything, and I felt her happy spontaneous kisses begin to compose the darkness around us like successive washes of a colour. When we had made love and lay once more awake she said: ‘I am always so bad the first time, why is it?’ ‘Nerves perhaps. So am I.’ ‘You are a little afraid of me.’ Then rising on an elbow as if I had suddenly woken up I said: ‘But Justine, what on earth are we going to make of all this? If this is to be —’ But she became absolutely terrified now and put her hand over my mouth, saying: ‘For God’s sake, no justifications! Then I shall know we are wrong! For nothing can justify it, nothing. And yet it has got to be like this.’ And getting out of bed she walked over to the dressing-table with its row of photos and powder-boxes and with a single blow like that of a leopard’s paw swept it clean. ‘That’ she said ‘is what I am doing to Nessim and you to Melissa! It would be ignoble to try and pretend otherwise.’ This was more in the tradition that Arnauti had led me to expect and I said nothing. She turned now and started kissing me with such a hungry agony that my burnt shoulders began to throb until tears came into my eyes. ‘Ah!’ she said softly and sadly. ‘You are crying. I wish I could. I have lost the knack.’ I remember thinking to myself as I held her, tasting the warmth and sweetness of her body, salt from the sea — her earlobes tasted of salt — I remember thinking: ‘Every kiss will take her near Nessim, but separate me further from Melissa.’ But strangely enough I experienced no sense of despondency or anguish; and for her part she must have been thinking along the same lines for she suddenly said: ‘Balthazar says that the natural traitors — like you and I — are really Caballi. He says we are dead and live this life as a sort of limbo. Yet the living can’t do without us. We infect them with a desire to experience more, to grow.’ I tried to tell myself how stupid all this was — a banal story of an adultery which was among the cheapest commonplaces of the city: and how it did not deserve romantic or literary trappings. And yet somewhere else, at a deeper level, I seemed to recognize that the experience upon which I had embarked would have the deathless finality of a lesson learned. ‘You are too serious’ I said, with a certain resentment, for I was vain and did not like the sensation of being carried out of my depth. Justine turned her great eyes on me. ‘Oh no!’ she said softly, as if to herself ‘It would be silly to spread so much harm as I have done and not to realize that it is my role. Only in this way, by knowing what I am doing, can I ever outgrow myself. It isn’t easy to be me. I so much want to be responsible for myself. Please never doubt that.’ We slept, and I was only woken by the dry click of Hamid’s key turning in the lock and by his usual evening performance. For a pious man, whose little prayer mat lay rolled and ready to hand on the kitchen balcony, he was extraordinarily superstitious. He was as Pombal said, ‘djinn-ridden’, and there seemed to be a djinn in every corner of the flat. How tired I had become of hearing his muttered ‘Destoor, destoor’, as he poured slops down the kitchen sink — for here dwelt a powerful djinn and its pardon had to be invoked. The bathroom too was haunted by them, and I could always tell when Hamid used the outside lavatory (which he had been forbidden to do) because whenever he sat on the water-closet a hoarse involuntary invocation escaped his lips (‘Permission O ye blessed ones!’) which neutralized the djinn which might otherwise have dragged him down into the sewage system. Now I heard him shuffling round the kitchen in his old felt slippers like a boa-constrictor muttering softly. I woke Justine from a troubled doze and explored her mouth and eyes and fine hair with the anguished curiosity which for me has always been the largest part of sensuality. ‘We must be going’ I said. ‘Pombal will be coming back from the Consulate in a little while.’ I recall the furtive languor with which we dressed and silent as accomplices made our way down the gloomy staircase into the street. We did not dare to link arms, but our hands kept meeting involuntarily as we walked, as if they had not shaken off the spell of the afternoon and could not bear to be separated. We parted speechlessly too, in the little square with its dying trees burnt to the colour of coffee by the sun; parted with only one look — as if we wished to take up emplacements in each other’s mind forever. It was as if the whole city had crashed about my ears; I walked about in it aimlessly as survivors must walk about the streets of their native city after an earthquake, amazed to find how much that had been familiar was changed. I felt in some curious way deafened and remember nothing more except that much later I ran into Pursewarden and Pombal in a bar, and that the former recited some lines from the old poet’s famous ‘The City’ which struck me with a new force — as if the poetry had been newly minted: though I knew them well. And when Pombal said: ‘You are abstracted this evening. What is the matter?’ I felt like answering him in the words of the dying Amr:* ‘I feel as if heaven lay close upon the earth and I between them both, breathing through the eye of a needle.’In the same streets you’ll wander endlessly,But like a man long since preparedJustine (1957) Part III Chapter 3