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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCrome Yellow - Chapter XXIX
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Crome Yellow - Chapter XXIX Post by :asdfgh Category :Long Stories Author :Aldous Huxley Date :February 2011 Read :3091

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Crome Yellow - Chapter XXIX

It was after ten o'clock. The dancers had already dispersed and
the last lights were being put out. To-morrow the tents would be
struck, the dismantled merry-go-round would be packed into
waggons and carted away. An expanse of worn grass, a shabby
brown patch in the wide green of the park, would be all that
remained. Crome Fair was over.

By the edge of the pool two figures lingered.

"No, no, no," Anne was saying in a breathless whisper, leaning
backwards, turning her head from side to side in an effort to
escape Gombauld's kisses. "No, please. No." Her raised voice
had become imperative.

Gombauld relaxed his embrace a little. "Why not?" he said. "I
will."

With a sudden effort Anne freed herself. "You won't," she
retorted. "You've tried to take the most unfair advantage of
me."

"Unfair advantage?" echoed Gombauld in genuine surprise.

"Yes, unfair advantage. You attack me after I've been dancing
for two hours, while I'm still reeling drunk with the movement,
when I've lost my head, when I've got no mind left but only a
rhythmical body! It's as bad as making love to someone you've
drugged or intoxicated."

Gombauld laughed angrily. "Call me a White Slaver and have done
with it."

"Luckily," said Anne, "I am now completely sobered, and if you
try and kiss me again I shall box your ears. Shall we take a few
turns round the pool?" she added. "The night is delicious."

For answer Gombauld made an irritated noise. They paced off
slowly, side by side.

"What I like about the painting of Degas..." Anne began in her
most detached and conversational tone.

"Oh, damn Degas!" Gombauld was almost shouting.

From where he stood, leaning in an attitude of despair against
the parapet of the terrace, Denis had seen them, the two pale
figures in a patch of moonlight, far down by the pool's edge. He
had seen the beginning of what promised to be an endless
passionate embracement, and at the sight he had fled. It was too
much; he couldn't stand it. In another moment, he felt, he would
have burst into irrepressible tears.

Dashing blindly into the house, he almost ran into Mr. Scogan,
who was walking up and down the hall smoking a final pipe.

"Hullo!" said Mr. Scogan, catching him by the arm; dazed and
hardly conscious of what he was doing or where he was, Denis
stood there for a moment like a somnambulist. "What's the
matter?" Mr. Scogan went on. "you look disturbed, distressed,
depressed."

Denis shook his head without replying.

"Worried about the cosmos, eh?" Mr. Scogan patted him on the arm.
"I know the feeling," he said. "It's a most distressing symptom.
'What's the point of it all? All is vanity. What's the good of
continuing to function if one's doomed to be snuffed out at last
along with everything else?' Yes, yes. I know exactly how you
feel. It's most distressing if one allows oneself to be
distressed. But then why allow oneself to be distressed? After
all, we all know that there's no ultimate point. But what
difference does that make?"

At this point the somnambulist suddenly woke up. "What?" he
said, blinking and frowning at his interlocutor. "What?" Then
breaking away he dashed up the stairs, two steps at a time.

Mr. Scogan ran to the foot of the stairs and called up after him.
"It makes no difference, none whatever. Life is gay all the
same, always, under whatever circumstances--under whatever
circumstances," he added, raising his voice to a shout. But
Denis was already far out of hearing, and even if he had not
been, his mind to-night was proof against all the consolations of
philosophy. Mr. Scogan replaced his pipe between his teeth and
resumed his meditative pacing. "Under any circumstances," he
repeated to himself. It was ungrammatical to begin with; was it
true? And is life really its own reward? He wondered. When his
pipe had burned itself to its stinking conclusion he took a drink
of gin and went to bed. In ten minutes he was deeply, innocently
asleep.

Denis had mechanically undressed and, clad in those flowered silk
pyjamas of which he was so justly proud, was lying face downwards
on his bed. Time passed. When at last he looked up, the candle
which he had left alight at his bedside had burned down almost to
the socket. He looked at his watch; it was nearly half-past one.
His head ached, his dry, sleepless eyes felt as though they had
been bruised from behind, and the blood was beating within his
ears a loud arterial drum. He got up, opened the door, tiptoed
noiselessly along the passage, and began to mount the stairs
towards the higher floors. Arrived at the servants' quarters
under the roof, he hesitated, then turning to the right he opened
a little door at the end of the corridor. Within was a pitch-
dark cupboard-like boxroom, hot, stuffy, and smelling of dust and
old leather. He advanced cautiously into the blackness, groping
with his hands. It was from this den that the ladder went up to
the leads of the western tower. He found the ladder, and set his
feet on the rungs; noiselessly, he lifted the trap-door above his
head; the moonlit sky was over him, he breathed the fresh, cool
air of the night. In a moment he was standing on the leads,
gazing out over the dim, colourless landscape, looking
perpendicularly down at the terrace seventy feet below.

Why had he climbed up to this high, desolate place? Was it to
look at the moon? Was it to commit suicide? As yet he hardly
knew. Death--the tears came into his eyes when he thought of it.
His misery assumed a certain solemnity; he was lifted up on the
wings of a kind of exaltation. It was a mood in which he might
have done almost anything, however foolish. He advanced towards
the farther parapet; the drop was sheer there and uninterrupted.
A good leap, and perhaps one might clear the narrow terrace and
so crash down yet another thirty feet to the sun-baked ground
below. He paused at the corner of the tower, looking now down
into the shadowy gulf below, now up towards the rare stars and
the waning moon. He made a gesture with his hand, muttered
something, he could not afterwards remember what; but the fact
that he had said it aloud gave the utterance a peculiarly
terrible significance. Then he looked down once more into the
depths.

"What ARE you doing, Denis?" questioned a voice from somewhere
very close behind him.

Denis uttered a cry of frightened surprise, and very nearly went
over the parapet in good earnest. His heart was beating
terribly, and he was pale when, recovering himself, he turned
round in the direction from which the voice had come.

"Are you ill?"

In the profound shadow that slept under the eastern parapet of
the tower, he saw something he had not previously noticed--an
oblong shape. It was a mattress, and someone was lying on it.
Since that first memorable night on the tower, Mary had slept out
every evening; it was a sort of manifestation of fidelity.

"It gave me a fright," she went on, "to wake up and see you
waving your arms and gibbering there. What on earth were you
doing?"

Denis laughed melodramatically. "What, indeed!" he said. If she
hadn't woken up as she did, he would be lying in pieces at the
bottom of the tower; he was certain of that, now.

"You hadn't got designs on me, I hope?" Mary inquired, jumping
too rapidly to conclusions.

"I didn't know you were here," said Denis, laughing more bitterly
and artificially than before.

"What IS the matter, Denis?"

He sat down on the edge of the mattress, and for all reply went
on laughing in the same frightful and improbable tone.

An hour later he was reposing with his head on Mary's knees, and
she, with an affectionate solicitude that was wholly maternal,
was running her fingers through his tangled hair. He had told
her everything, everything: his hopeless love, his jealousy, his
despair, his suicide--as it were providentially averted by her
interposition. He had solemnly promised never to think of self-
destruction again. And now his soul was floating in a sad
serenity. It was embalmed in the sympathy that Mary so
generously poured. And it was not only in receiving sympathy
that Denis found serenity and even a kind of happiness; it was
also in giving it. For if he had told Mary everything about his
miseries, Mary, reacting to these confidences, had told him in
return everything, or very nearly everything, about her own.

"Poor Mary!" He was very sorry for her. Still, she might have
guessed that Ivor wasn't precisely a monument of constancy.

"Well," she concluded, "one must put a good face on it." She
wanted to cry, but she wouldn't allow herself to be weak. There
was a silence.

"Do you think," asked Denis hesitatingly--"do you really think
that she...that Gombauld..."

"I'm sure of it," Mary answered decisively. There was another
long pause.

"I don't know what to do about it," he said at last, utterly
dejected.

"You'd better go away," advised Mary. "It's the safest thing,
and the most sensible."

"But I've arranged to stay here three weeks more."

"You must concoct an excuse."

"I suppose you're right."

"I know I am," said Mary, who was recovering all her firm self-
possession. "You can't go on like this, can you?"

"No, I can't go on like this," he echoed.

Immensely practical, Mary invented a plan of action.
Startlingly, in the darkness, the church clock struck three.

"You must go to bed at once," she said. "I'd no idea it was so
late."

Denis clambered down the ladder, cautiously descended the
creaking stairs. His room was dark; the candle had long ago
guttered to extinction. He got into bed and fell asleep almost
at once.

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Denis had been called, but in spite of the parted curtains he haddropped off again into that drowsy, dozy state when sleep becomesa sensual pleasure almost consciously savoured. In thiscondition he might have remained for another hour if he had notbeen disturbed by a violent rapping at the door."Come in," he mumbled, without opening his eyes. The latchclicked, a hand seized him by the shoulder and he was rudelyshaken."Get up, get up!"His eyelids blinked painfully apart, and he saw Mary standingover him, bright-faced and earnest."Get up!" she repeated. "You must go and send the telegram.Don't you remember?""O Lord!"
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Towards sunset the fair itself became quiescent. It was the hourfor the dancing to begin. At one side of the village of tents aspace had been roped off. Acetylene lamps, hung round it onposts, cast a piercing white light. In one corner sat the band,and, obedient to its scraping and blowing, two or three hundreddancers trampled across the dry ground, wearing away the grasswith their booted feet. Round this patch of all but daylight,alive with motion and noise, the night seemed preternaturallydark. Bars of light reached out into it, and every now and thena lonely
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