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Chapter 24

CHAPTER XXIV.

It was noon. Denis, descending from his chamber, where he had
been making an unsuccessful effort to write something about
nothing in particular, found the drawing-room deserted. He was
about to go out into the garden when his eye fell on a familiar
but mysterious object--the large red notebook in which he had so
often seen Jenny quietly and busily scribbling. She had left it
lying on the window-seat. The temptation was great. He picked
up the book and slipped off the elastic band that kept it
discreetly closed.

"Private. Not to be opened," was written in capital letters on
the cover. He raised his eyebrows. It was the sort of thing one
wrote in one's Latin Grammar while one was still at one's
preparatory school.

"Black is the raven, black is the rook,
But blacker the theif who steals this book!"

It was curiously childish, he thought, and he smiled to himself.
He opened the book. What he saw made him wince as though he had
been struck.

Denis was his own severest critic; so, at least, he had always
believed. He liked to think of himself as a merciless vivisector
probing into the palpitating entrails of his own soul; he was
Brown Dog to himself. His weaknesses, his absurdities--no one
knew them better than he did. Indeed, in a vague way he imagined
that nobody beside himself was aware of them at all. It seemed,
somehow, inconceivable that he should appear to other people as
they appeared to him; inconceivable that they ever spoke of him
among themselves in that same freely critical and, to be quite
honest, mildly malicious tone in which he was accustomed to talk
of them. In his own eyes he had defects, but to see them was a
privilege reserved to him alone. For the rest of the world he
was surely an image of flawless crystal. It was almost
axiomatic.

On opening the red notebook that crystal image of himself crashed
to the ground, and was irreparably shattered. He was not his own
severest critic after all. The discovery was a painful one.

The fruit of Jenny's unobtrusive scribbling lay before him. A
caricature of himself, reading (the book was upside-down). In
the background a dancing couple, recognisable as Gombauld and
Anne. Beneath, the legend: "Fable of the Wallflower and the
Sour Grapes." Fascinated and horrified, Denis pored over the
drawing. It was masterful. A mute, inglorious Rouveyre appeared
in every one of those cruelly clear lines. The expression of the
face, an assumed aloofness and superiority tempered by a feeble
envy; the attitude of the body and limbs, an attitude of studious
and scholarly dignity, given away by the fidgety pose of the
turned-in feet--these things were terrible. And, more terrible
still, was the likeness, was the magisterial certainty with which
his physical peculiarities were all recorded and subtly
exaggerated.

Denis looked deeper into the book. There were caricatures of
other people: of Priscilla and Mr. Barbecue-Smith; of Henry
Wimbush, of Anne and Gombauld; of Mr. Scogan, whom Jenny had
represented in a light that was more than slightly sinister, that
was, indeed, diabolic; of Mary and Ivor. He scarcely glanced at
them. A fearful desire to know the worst about himself possessed
him. He turned over the leaves, lingering at nothing that was
not his own image. Seven full pages were devoted to him.

"Private. Not to be opened." He had disobeyed the injunction;
he had only got what he deserved. Thoughtfully he closed the
book, and slid the rubber band once more into its place. Sadder
and wiser, he went out on to the terrace. And so this, he
reflected, this was how Jenny employed the leisure hours in her
ivory tower apart. And he had thought her a simple-minded,
uncritical creature! It was he, it seemed, who was the fool. He
felt no resentment towards Jenny. No, the distressing thing
wasn't Jenny herself; it was what she and the phenomenon of her
red book represented, what they stood for and concretely
symbolised. They represented all the vast conscious world of men
outside himself; they symbolised something that in his studious
solitariness he was apt not to believe in. He could stand at
Piccadilly Circus, could watch the crowds shuffle past, and still
imagine himself the one fully conscious, intelligent, individual
being among all those thousands. It seemed, somehow, impossible
that other people should be in their way as elaborate and
complete as he in his. Impossible; and yet, periodically he
would make some painful discovery about the external world and
the horrible reality of its consciousness and its intelligence.
The red notebook was one of these discoveries, a footprint in the
sand. It put beyond a doubt the fact that the outer world really
existed.

Sitting on the balustrade of the terrace, he ruminated this
unpleasant truth for some time. Still chewing on it, he strolled
pensively down towards the swimming-pool. A peacock and his hen
trailed their shabby finery across the turf of the lower lawn.
Odious birds! Their necks, thick and greedily fleshy at the
roots, tapered up to the cruel inanity of their brainless heads,
their flat eyes and piercing beaks. The fabulists were right, he
reflected, when they took beasts to illustrate their tractates of
human morality. Animals resemble men with all the truthfulness
of a caricature. (Oh, the red notebook!) He threw a piece of
stick at the slowly pacing birds. They rushed towards it,
thinking it was something to eat.

He walked on. The profound shade of a giant ilex tree engulfed
him. Like a great wooden octopus, it spread its long arms
abroad.

"Under the spreading ilex tree..."

He tried to remember who the poem was by, but couldn't.

"The smith, a brawny man is he,
With arms like rubber bands."

Just like his; he would have to try and do his Muller exercises
more regularly.

He emerged once more into the sunshine. The pool lay before him,
reflecting in its bronze mirror the blue and various green of the
summer day. Looking at it, he thought of Anne's bare arms and
seal-sleek bathing-dress, her moving knees and feet.

"And little Luce with the white legs,
And bouncing Barbary..."

Oh, these rags and tags of other people's making! Would he ever
be able to call his brain his own? Was there, indeed, anything
in it that was truly his own, or was it simply an education?

He walked slowly round the water's edge. In an embayed recess
among the surrounding yew trees, leaning her back against the
pedestal of a pleasantly comic version of the Medici Venus,
executed by some nameless mason of the seicento, he saw Mary
pensively sitting.

"Hullo!" he said, for he was passing so close to her that he had
to say something.

Mary looked up. "Hullo!" she answered in a melancholy,
uninterested tone.

In this alcove hewed out of the dark trees, the atmosphere seemed
to Denis agreeably elegiac. He sat down beside her under the
shadow of the pudic goddess. There was a prolonged silence.

At breakfast that morning Mary had found on her plate a picture
postcard of Gobley Great Park. A stately Georgian pile, with a
facade sixteen windows wide; parterres in the foreground; huge,
smooth lawns receding out of the picture to right and left. Ten
years more of the hard times and Gobley, with all its peers, will
be deserted and decaying. Fifty years, and the countryside will
know the old landmarks no more. They will have vanished as the
monasteries vanished before them. At the moment, however, Mary's
mind was not moved by these considerations.

On the back of the postcard, next to the address, was written, in
Ivor's bold, large hand, a single quatrain.

"Hail, maid of moonlight! Bride of the sun, farewell!
Like bright plumes moulted in an angel's flight,
There sleep within my heart's most mystic cell
Memories of morning, memories of the night."

There followed a postscript of three lines: "Would you mind
asking one of the housemaids to forward the packet of safety-
razor blades I left in the drawer of my washstand. Thanks.--
Ivor.

Seated under the Venus's immemorial gesture, Mary considered life
and love. The abolition of her repressions, so far from bringing
the expected peace of mind, had brought nothing but disquiet, a
new and hitherto unexperienced misery. Ivor, Ivor...She couldn't
do without him now. It was evident, on the other hand, from the
poem on the back of the picture postcard, that Ivor could very
well do without her. He was at Gobley now, so was Zenobia. Mary
knew Zenobia. She thought of the last verse of the song he had
sung that night in the garden.

"Le lendemain, Phillis peu sage
Aurait donne moutons et chien
Pour un baiser que le volage
A Lisette donnait pour rien."

Mary shed tears at the memory; she had never been so unhappy in
all her life before.

It was Denis who first broke the silence. "The individual," he
began in a soft and sadly philosophical tone, "is not a self-
supporting universe. There are times when he comes into contact
with other individuals, when he is forced to take cognisance of
the existence of other universes besides himself."

He had contrived this highly abstract generalisation as a
preliminary to a personal confidence. It was the first gambit in
a conversation that was to lead up to Jenny's caricatures.

"True," said Mary; and, generalising for herself, she added,
"When one individual comes into intimate contact with another,
she--or he, of course, as the case may be--must almost inevitably
receive or inflict suffering."

"One is apt, Denis went on, "to be so spellbound by the spectacle
of one's own personality that one forgets that the spectacle
presents itself to other people as well as to oneself."

Mary was not listening. "The difficulty," she said, "makes
itself acutely felt in matters of sex. If one individual seeks
intimate contact with another individual in the natural way, she
is certain to receive or inflict suffering. If on the other
hand, she avoids contacts, she risks the equally grave sufferings
that follow on unnatural repressions. As you see, it's a
dilemma."

"When I think of my own case," said Denis, making a more decided
move in the desired direction, "I am amazed how ignorant I am of
other people's mentality in general, and above all and in
particular, of their opinions about myself. Our minds are sealed
books only occasionally opened to the outside world." He made a
gesture that was faintly suggestive of the drawing off of a
rubber band.

"It's an awful problem," said Mary thoughtfully. "One has to
have had personal experience to realise quite how awful it is."

"Exactly." Denis nodded. "One has to have had first-hand
experience." He leaned towards her and slightly lowered his
voice. "This very morning, for example..." he began, but his
confidences were cut short. The deep voice of the gong, tempered
by distance to a pleasant booming, floated down from the house.
It was lunch-time. Mechanically Mary rose to her feet, and
Denis, a little hurt that she should exhibit such a desperate
anxiety for her food and so slight an interest in his spiritual
experiences, followed her. They made their way up to the house
without speaking.

Aldous Huxley

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