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Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI.

A little canvas village of tents and booths had sprung up, just
beyond the boundaries of the garden, in the green expanse of the
park. A crowd thronged its streets, the men dressed mostly in
black--holiday best, funeral best--the women in pale muslins.
Here and there tricolour bunting hung inert. In the midst of the
canvas town, scarlet and gold and crystal, the merry-go-round
glittered in the sun. The balloon-man walked among the crowd,
and above his head, like a huge, inverted bunch of many-coloured
grapes, the balloons strained upwards. With a scythe-like motion
the boat-swings reaped the air, and from the funnel of the engine
which worked the roundabout rose a thin, scarcely wavering column
of black smoke.

Denis had climbed to the top of one of Sir Ferdinando's towers,
and there, standing on the sun-baked leads, his elbows resting on
the parapet, he surveyed the scene. The steam-organ sent up
prodigious music. The clashing of automatic cymbals beat out
with inexorable precision the rhythm of piercingly sounded
melodies. The harmonies were like a musical shattering of glass
and brass. Far down in the bass the Last Trump was hugely
blowing, and with such persistence, such resonance, that its
alternate tonic and dominant detached themselves from the rest of
the music and made a tune of their own, a loud, monotonous see-
saw.

Denis leaned over the gulf of swirling noise. If he threw
himself over the parapet, the noise would surely buoy him up,
keep him suspended, bobbing, as a fountain balances a ball on its
breaking crest. Another fancy came to him, this time in metrical
form.

"My soul is a thin white sheet of parchment stretched
Over a bubbling cauldron."

Bad, bad. But he liked the idea of something thin and distended
being blown up from underneath.

"My soul is a thin tent of gut..."

or better--

"My soul is a pale, tenuous membrane..."

That was pleasing: a thin, tenuous membrane. It had the right
anatomical quality. Tight blown, quivering in the blast of noisy
life. It was time for him to descend from the serene empyrean of
words into the actual vortex. He went down slowly. "My soul is
a thin, tenuous membrane..."

On the terrace stood a knot of distinguished visitors. There was
old Lord Moleyn, like a caricature of an English milord in a
French comic paper: a long man, with a long nose and long,
drooping moustaches and long teeth of old ivory, and lower down,
absurdly, a short covert coat, and below that long, long legs
cased in pearl-grey trousers--legs that bent unsteadily at the
knee and gave a kind of sideways wobble as he walked. Beside
him, short and thick-set, stood Mr. Callamay, the venerable
conservative statesman, with a face like a Roman bust, and short
white hair. Young girls didn't much like going for motor drives
alone with Mr. Callamay; and of old Lord Moleyn one wondered why
he wasn't living in gilded exile on the island of Capri among the
other distinguished persons who, for one reason or another, find
it impossible to live in England. They were talking to Anne,
laughing, the one profoundly, the other hootingly.

A black silk balloon towing a black-and-white striped parachute
proved to be old Mrs. Budge from the big house on the other side
of the valley. She stood low on the ground, and the spikes of
her black-and-white sunshade menaced the eyes of Priscilla
Wimbush, who towered over her--a massive figure dressed in purple
and topped with a queenly toque on which the nodding black plumes
recalled the splendours of a first-class Parisian funeral.

Denis peeped at them discreetly from the window of the morning-
room. His eyes were suddenly become innocent, childlike,
unprejudiced. They seemed, these people, inconceivably
fantastic. And yet they really existed, they functioned by
themselves, they were conscious, they had minds. Moreover, he
was like them. Could one believe it? But the evidence of the
red notebook was conclusive.

It would have been polite to go and say, "How d'you do?" But at
the moment Denis did not want to talk, could not have talked.
His soul was a tenuous, tremulous, pale membrane. He would keep
its sensibility intact and virgin as long as he could.
Cautiously he crept out by a side door and made his way down
towards the park. His soul fluttered as he approached the noise
and movement of the fair. He paused for a moment on the brink,
then stepped in and was engulfed.

Hundreds of people, each with his own private face and all of
them real, separate, alive: the thought was disquieting. He
paid twopence and saw the Tatooed Woman; twopence more, the
Largest Rat in the World. From the home of the Rat he emerged
just in time to see a hydrogen-filled balloon break loose for
home. A child howled up after it; but calmly, a perfect sphere
of flushed opal, it mounted, mounted. Denis followed it with his
eyes until it became lost in the blinding sunlight. If he could
but send his soul to follow it!...

He sighed, stuck his steward's rosette in his buttonhole, and
started to push his way, aimlessly but officially, through the
crowd.

Aldous Huxley

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