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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCrome Yellow - Chapter XV
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Crome Yellow - Chapter XV Post by :hereger Category :Long Stories Author :Aldous Huxley Date :February 2011 Read :2749

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Crome Yellow - Chapter XV

"In the time of the amiable Brantome," Mr. Scogan was saying,
"every debutante at the French Court was invited to dine at the
King's table, where she was served with wine in a handsome silver
cup of Italian workmanship. It was no ordinary cup, this goblet
of the debutantes; for, inside, it had been most curiously and
ingeniously engraved with a series of very lively amorous scenes.
With each draught that the young lady swallowed these engravings
became increasingly visible, and the Court looked on with
interest, every time she put her nose in the cup, to see whether
she blushed at what the ebbing wine revealed. If the debutante
blushed, they laughed at her for her innocence; if she did not,
she was laughed at for being too knowing."

"Do you propose," asked Anne, "that the custom should be revived
at Buckingham Palace?"

"I do not," said Mr. Scogan. "I merely quoted the anecdote as an
illustration of the customs, so genially frank, of the sixteenth
century. I might have quoted other anecdotes to show that the
customs of the seventeenth and eighteenth, of the fifteenth and
fourteenth centuries, and indeed of every other century, from the
time of Hammurabi onward, were equally genial and equally frank.
The only century in which customs were not characterised by the
same cheerful openness was the nineteenth, of blessed memory. It
was the astonishing exception. And yet, with what one must
suppose was a deliberate disregard of history, it looked upon its
horribly pregnant silences as normal and natural and right; the
frankness of the previous fifteen or twenty thousand years was
considered abnormal and perverse. It was a curious phenomenon."

"I entirely agree." Mary panted with excitement in her effort to
bring out what she had to say. "Havelock Ellis says..."

Mr. Scogan, like a policeman arresting the flow of traffic, held
up his hand. "He does; I know. And that brings me to my next
point: the nature of the reaction."

"Havelock Ellis..."

"The reaction, when it came--and we may say roughly that it set
in a little before the beginning of this century--the reaction
was to openness, but not to the same openness as had reigned in
the earlier ages. It was to a scientific openness, not to the
jovial frankness of the past, that we returned. The whole
question of Amour became a terribly serious one. Earnest young
men wrote in the public prints that from this time forth it would
be impossible ever again to make a joke of any sexual matter.
Professors wrote thick books in which sex was sterilised and
dissected. It has become customary for serious young women, like
Mary, to discuss, with philosophic calm, matters of which the
merest hint would have sufficed to throw the youth of the sixties
into a delirium of amorous excitement. It is all very estimable,
no doubt. But still"--Mr. Scogan sighed.--"I for one should like
to see, mingled with this scientific ardour, a little more of the
jovial spirit of Rabelais and Chaucer."

"I entirely disagree with you," said Mary. "Sex isn't a laughing
matter; it's serious."

"Perhaps," answered Mr. Scogan, "perhaps I'm an obscene old man.
For I must confess that I cannot always regard it as wholly
serious."

"But I tell you..." began Mary furiously. Her face had flushed
with excitement. Her cheeks were the cheeks of a great ripe
peach.

"Indeed," Mr. Scogan continued, "it seems to me one of few
permanently and everlastingly amusing subjects that exist. Amour
is the one human activity of any importance in which laughter and
pleasure preponderate, if ever so slightly, over misery and
pain."

"I entirely disagree," said Mary. There was a silence.

Anne looked at her watch. "Nearly a quarter to eight," she said.
"I wonder when Ivor will turn up." She got up from her deck-
chair and, leaning her elbows on the balustrade of the terrace,
looked out over the valley and towards the farther hills. Under
the level evening light the architecture of the land revealed
itself. The deep shadows, the bright contrasting lights gave the
hills a new solidity. Irregularities of the surface, unsuspected
before, were picked out with light and shade. The grass, the
corn, the foliage of trees were stippled with intricate shadows.
The surface of things had taken on a marvellous enrichment.

"Look!" said Anne suddenly, and pointed. On the opposite side of
the valley, at the crest of the ridge, a cloud of dust flushed by
the sunlight to rosy gold was moving rapidly along the sky-line.
"It's Ivor. One can tell by the speed."

The dust cloud descended into the valley and was lost. A horn
with the voice of a sea-lion made itself heard, approaching. A
minute later Ivor came leaping round the corner of the house.
His hair waved in the wind of his own speed; he laughed as he saw
them.

"Anne, darling," he cried, and embraced her, embraced Mary, very
nearly embraced Mr. Scogan. "Well, here I am. I've come with
incredulous speed." Ivor's vocabulary was rich, but a little
erratic. "I'm not late for dinner, am I?" He hoisted himself up
on to the balustrade, and sat there, kicking his heels. With one
arm he embraced a large stone flower-pot, leaning his head
sideways against its hard and lichenous flanks in an attitude of
trustful affection. He had brown, wavy hair, and his eyes were
of a very brilliant, pale, improbable blue. His head was narrow,
his face thin and rather long, his nose aquiline. In old age--
though it was difficult to imagine Ivor old--he might grow to
have an Iron Ducal grimness. But now, at twenty-six, it was not
the structure of his face that impressed one; it was its
expression. That was charming and vivacious, and his smile was
an irradiation. He was forever moving, restlessly and rapidly,
but with an engaging gracefulness. His frail and slender body
seemed to be fed by a spring of inexhaustible energy.

"No, you're not late."

"You're in time to answer a question," said Mr. Scogan. "We were
arguing whether Amour were a serious matter or no. What do you
think? Is it serious?"

"Serious?" echoed Ivor. "Most certainly."

"I told you so," cried Mary triumphantly.

"But in what sense serious?" Mr. Scogan asked.

"I mean as an occupation. One can go on with it without ever
getting bored."

"I see," said Mr. Scogan. "Perfectly."

"One can occupy oneself with it," Ivor continued, "always and
everywhere. Women are always wonderfully the same. Shapes vary
a little, that's all. In Spain"--with his free hand he described
a series of ample curves--"one can't pass them on the stairs. In
England"--he put the tip of his forefinger against the tip of his
thumb and, lowering his hand, drew out this circle into an
imaginary cylinder--"In England they're tubular. But their
sentiments are always the same. At least, I've always found it
so."

"I'm delighted to hear it," said Mr. Scogan.

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