Black Gold, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 — Greenleaves
… In which Paul Nouveau begins by walking Julie to Church, but soon veers off to visit Mr Axel Greenleaves, the local hermit, who lives in a vast, old estate. Greenleaves has recently returned from Paris where he took the paintings of a friend in an attempt to interest some of the Impressionists in them. He failed, and comments caustically on artistic fame in the colonies. Paul discusses his favourite historian Michelet, to little effect. Greenleaves has an ironic view of life, a view unsuitable to his position as a citizen of Wagga Wagga. Paul leaves, mentally stimulated.

Paragraph One follows — 1:

Sunday dawned bright and clear, with a touch of frost in the air. Paul saw Julie at breakfast, and she told him that her father was already working in his basement laboratory and didn’t want to be disturbed. After breakfast Julie asked Paul if he’d like to come to church with her. He refused, then grudgingly said he’d walk part of the way.

2:

‘If you wish I can carry your prayer book, like a gentleman,’ he said, and she laughed. The church was on the other side of the town; they could hear the bell’s slow, clanky tones clearly across the rooftops. The sky was a huge empty bowl. Somewhere — it seemed high in the sky, and miles away — Paul thought he heard a lark’s bright agitated song. Here and there along the side of the road were pools of water from the rain the night before, reflecting the sky in their blue mirrors.

3:

‘Doesn’t your father go to church with you?’

4:

‘My father gave away orthodox religion long ago, after my mother died.’

5:

‘And you?’

6:

‘Me?’

7:

‘You still believe?’

8:

She thought for a moment. ‘I have a need, that’s all,’ she said at last. ‘We all have a need to believe. It’s what you lack that you go to church for, not because of something you have.’

9:

‘I am told that this is the conventional view.’

10:

‘You’re saying that it sounds stupid. You know, it’s not considered good manners to talk about one’s religious faith.’

Bush Church. From the internet.

11:

Paul laughed. ‘It is difficult to believe the truth of you British people in the bush,’ he said. ‘A matter of life and death, and you say no, it is not polite.’ She gave him a searching look, but said nothing. They walked a few blocks in silence.

12:

‘I used to be in love with him,’ Paul said.

13:

‘What? What did you say?’

14:

‘I used to worship God. It was like having a father again. Well, they call Him God the Father. I remember — I must have been ten or eleven — some older boys had stolen some holy water from the font. They were drinking it on the front steps of the church and laughing. I flew into a rage and attacked them, hitting and biting them. I can still remember the taste of that cheap serge cloth in my mouth, tasting of dirt and the sweat of others. I nearly snapped off my teeth, I bit so furiously. They were big boys, but I was so crazy with rage that I frightened them away. Oh, I was so proud of myself. A warrior for Christ!’

15:

Julie gave him a sideways look. ‘And now?’

16:

‘Oh, He would not care to have a thing to do with me now.’ Paul wiped his face across his eyes as if to erase the sight of something.

17:

‘It’s not right to make judgments like that,’ she said, ‘presuming what God might or might not care to do.’

18:

He ignored the remark. ‘I had a thought the other day. You know, the Bible says ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.„ So, He speaks, He gives the name for things and they happen, like a factory owner installing a new steam boiler. ”Start the Engine,„ he says, and the thing bursts into movement, the factory comes to life.’ Paul’s eyes were sparkling, and his hands moved in time with his words, making shapes in the air.

19:

‘Or the president of a great shipping line stands at the side of the dry dock — they have built a new ship for him, bigger than any before, as big as a city. Everyone is waiting, motionless. ”Launch the Ship!„ he says, and suddenly there is movement, they cut the rope, and the ship slides down the greased planks into the water to begin its life as a kind of nation floating on the sea.’ Now he hesitated, and his hands closed into fists.

Ship Launch. From the internet.

20:

‘Well, when I was concocting those glittering paragraphs, creating things no one had ever imagined before, then I thought —’ His breathing had become uneven. He hesitated, and glanced at her. She waited for him to continue, but he swallowed once or twice, and swung away onto another tack. ‘But I suspect the view of God the Speaker of Holy Words is all wrong. God is hiding, yes, but not among the noisy prayers and pleading of the congregation, and not in among the notes of the organ reverberating in the rafters, but in silence. Perhaps that is what I am looking for, in the end: silence, the absence of the vain and wicked self calling out and quarrelling and begging to be noticed.’

21:

‘Well, there’s silence enough here in the Australian bush,’ Julie said.

22:

‘And what is on the other side of silence? Peace, perhaps. At least I hope so. Maybe you are correct to have such a modest faith, perhaps that is where to find Him, hidden under the leaves in the forest, among the lost and invisible things.’ His eyes flickered from side to side as he walked.

23:

‘You won’t find God in the grass at the side of the road,’ Julie said. ‘If you look properly, you may find Him in church, where everyone else goes to look.’

24:

‘It is a superstition, to think like that. Perhaps that is why He is not there,’ Paul said. ‘Or is that blasphemy?’

25:

She bit her lip, but made no reply.

26:

He sighed, and shook himself, and looked around. ‘Julie,’ he said, ‘I should like to visit Greensleeves, the man I met in the coach shed the other day — you remember, we began in some confusion about the box of books.’

27:

Julie laughed, and put her arm through his. ‘It’s ”Greenleaves„, not ”Greensleeves„. ”Greensleeves„ is a tune, an old English song. Yes, he lives in his family home, up on the hill. You can’t see it from here. I’ll show you how to get there; it’s more or less on the way.’

28:

‘Will he answer the door to visitors?’

29:

‘I suppose so. You should mention father’s name, perhaps; he’s treated him once or twice. I’m sure Mr Greenleaves would find you — well, interesting. And I’m sure you’d enjoy talking with him more than listening to a sermon on the evils of the flesh.’

30:

Soon they came to the entrance of a large, wooded estate. The gates were rusted and hung crooked on their hinges, and were smothered with a climbing creeper with tiny purple flowers. ‘This is it,’ Julie said. ‘Just go up the drive.’ She shook his hand gravely. Paul held her hand a moment longer than was necessary, and she gave him a calm, level stare.

31:

She took her hand from his, and went off down the street. He stood watching her. Her slight limp seemed more pronounced when her figure was isolated in the half-empty landscape. After fifty yards or so she turned to look back, and stopped for a moment, surprised to see Paul still standing there. Paul waved.

32:

She smiled uncertainly and waved back. ‘Good bye,’ she called.

33:

‘Good bye, Julie.’

34:

Weeds were struggling to reclaim the gravel path as it wound around the hill under the thick shade of the trees. Paul guessed that few horses or carriages had passed that way for ten years or more. It should have grown lighter as he climbed up towards that blue sky, but it seemed to grow darker instead, and the branches leaned overhead more and more heavily. The distant sounds of the town faded as he walked on, with only the crunch of gravel under his boots to keep him company. Soon his footsteps were muffled on the moss that grew over the path. There was a minty scent in the air — perhaps it was eucalyptus. He expected to find a lawn or a clearing of some sort, but when he finally came across the front door it was like stumbling against a cliff-face in the jungle: the foliage grew almost up to the face of the building. He stepped back and looked up.

Abercrombie House, from the internet.

35:

It was a big house, more than two stories high, with an attic at the top, built of a grey-blue stone with dark slate roofing, and it had a vaguely European air. He could make out the name ‘Kurland’ chiselled into a granite nameplate over the door; it was partly obscured by a spider web. There was an iron knocker in the shape of a claw, and it made a hard clanking sound when he hammered it against the striker plate. The silence seemed to grow deeper after the loud knocking; it stretched under the trees. Nothing happened; he waited a minute or two, and tried a second time. The sound of the hammer blows seemed to leap away down the hill into the bush like a giant bounding down a steel staircase. Again nothing.

36:

He stepped back a few paces and surveyed the face of the house. There were tall windows of latticed glass panes, shaded with heavy drapes. An overgrown apple tree pushed up against one of the windows, half strangled with vines and creepers. He could hear a bird of some kind giving an occasional mournful hoot deep in the shade of the gully. The birds and the animals were strange and somehow wrong down here at the bottom of the world, he thought. He walked around to the side of the house, but a thicket of old quince trees blocked his way. He walked back to try the other side, to see if he could get around to the back of the house, when he noticed with a start that the front door had been opened, and a man was standing in the shadow of the doorway looking at him.

37:

‘Mr Greenleaves?’ Paul asked. His voice sounded strangely loud in the noon hush. ‘We… we met before, at the coach depot. We had a — a misunderstanding about some books. Ah — I am a friend of Mr Bell, the doctor. And of his daughter.’

38:

The man stared vaguely at Paul, and made no answer. He was wearing a green quilted smoking jacket of an old-fashioned cut.

39:

‘Perhaps you remember, we talked in the coach shed,’ Paul went on. ‘I am from Paris. I am — I am travelling in this part of the country, and I hoped —’

40:

Greenleaves frowned and seemed to sink into contemplation: he stroked his beard slowly. ‘Paris,’ he said at last. ‘Indeed. Yes, I think I know you, sir.’

41:

The bird hooted once more; then, after an interval, again.

42:

‘Well, you have travelled a long way for nothing, but you might as well come in. We can continue our interrupted conversation.’

43:

He disappeared into the gloom of the house, and Paul, after a moment’s hesitation, followed. They walked through an entrance hall, past a staircase sweeping up into the gloom, and into a library, with lozenged windows at one end that looked onto a tangle of foliage. It was a greenhouse, Paul saw, an extension of the main building, that seemed to plunge forward into a jungle of luxuriant growth like the prow of a ship built of panes of glass. The light in the library was bright green, and spilled down from the high windows past the paintings and mirrors and the glass-fronted bookcases onto the carpets and across the desk that filled the centre of the room. A chess game had been interrupted; beside the board was a diagram of the moves. A dozen or so books lay open, and sheets of paper covered with scribbled notes lay scattered among them. On a corner table sat the typing machine which Greenleaves had collected from the coach shed. A sheet of paper lay on the table, half filled with typewritten characters.

44:

‘I have been working,’ Greenleaves said, ‘or rather, struggling with this damned machine. But I was just about to have some tea.’ He rang a small bell; the delicate metal tones tinkled through the house. It seemed unlikely that anyone would be there to answer it. ‘Would you care for some?’

45:

‘Thank you, yes.’

46:

‘Axel Greenleaves is my name; but then you know that.’

47:

‘Yes.’

48:

After a moment Greenleaves prompted him. ‘And yours?’

49:

‘Oh, yes. Mine is Paul — Nouveau.’

50:

Greenleaves regarded him coolly. ‘So you say,’ he said. They waited for a minute or so. Presently a woman appeared in the doorway.

51:

‘Mrs Emmott, this is Mr Nouveau, a visitor from Paris. We should like some tea.’ Mrs Emmott gave Paul a long stare, and left. ‘She’s a good woman,’ Greenleaves said. ‘A better servant than I deserve. You struck me on a lucky day; Mrs Emmott only comes once a week. Otherwise I’m alone. When alone I subsist almost entirely on a brew of weak tea and whisky, which is hardly proper fare to offer a visitor. Please, sit.’ He indicated a leather sofa to one side of the desk. Paul sat, and looked around the room. Among the paintings he now noticed a number of large empty frames hung high on the walls. Greenleaves stared at him for a while, then shook himself. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’ve completely forgotten my manners. The empty frames — they must look odd to people. They’re paintings — ah, they used to hold paintings done by a friend of mine. But I’m wandering. Please, tell me why on earth you chose to visit this distant colony?’

52:

‘Well —’

53:

‘Were you looking for picturesque sights? Are you a photographer, perhaps?’

54:

‘No, not at all —’

55:

‘We had a photographer in the district a dozen years ago, like you a visitor from France, but he left, having failed to find anything to interest him. I believe he was hunting the duck-billed platypus, but like me, the platypus is an elusive creature. In those days photography was a dangerous art. Ether and guncotton, indeed. The fumes are poisonous. I had to call the good doctor.’ Greenleaves gazed at his heap of books and brooded for a moment. ‘Poor Doctor Bell,’ he said. ‘He still believes he has a duty to save the middle classes. But from what? Smallpox? Diphtheria? If so, a noble aim. But he has the soul of a philosopher, I think, and there is no place for the dreams of philosophers in today’s world.’

56:

‘Indeed.’ Paul He looked around him. Set high into the windows were stained glass panels that featured family crests and coats of arms. They glowed green and purple in the afternoon light. ‘What did your family do?’ he asked.

57:

Greenleaves snorted. ‘Do? They were a clan of proficient and thriving robbers, as far as I can make out. My father made a fortune in woollen mills, in the Midlands. He sent me off to school as soon as I was strong enough to stand it. This stuff —’ he waved at the stained glass — ‘it’s confectionery, and fake confectionery at that. Ah, the tea.’

58:

Mrs Emmott laid out a tray of tea things, and a plate of scones with jam and cream, then went silently away; they helped themselves.

59:

Greenleaves held out a plate. ‘A scone?’

60:

‘Thank you. Your parents, they live in England?’

61:

‘Drowned in a storm off the East Indies, both of them, sad to say. Though I believe the workers in my father’s factories were delighted at the news. They staged an impromptu holiday, I’m told, and danced in the streets.’ He dabbed some more cream onto his scone and jam. ‘Paris. What’s the news from Paris? I haven’t been there for a couple of years — Seventy-four, I think, was the last time I was in Europe.’

62:

Paul hesitated for a moment. ‘Well, to speak the truth, I have not traveled there much myself, for the last few years. London, Germany, Italy, yes; but not Paris.’

63:

Greenleaves appeared not to have heard him. He sipped his tea, then he held his head on one side like a bird listening carefully for a worm in the ground. He held this odd pose for some time, then said softly: ‘Café Tabourey, that was the name of the place. All Saints’ Eve, November Seventy-three.’

64:

Paul was still.

65:

‘I was there with a friend,’ Greenleaves went on, ‘the writer Poussin. He was from the country, fresh in town, and he knew less about Paris than I did. It was a holiday, I remember, and we were drinking with a crowd of people at the bar, artists and journalists, whatever; and there was a fellow who looked rather like you, sitting at a corner table, alone. Younger than you. Unshaven.’ Paul stroked the blond stubble on his chin in an unconscious gesture. ‘Looked rather wretched, in fact. Young Albert offered him a drink, tried to talk to him, but he was met with a snub.’ He tilted his head the other way, and looked at Paul. ‘Someone said it was the poet — what was his name? Not the old man, he was in gaol in Belgium for sodomy and attempted murder; no, that other one, the boy.’ Paul remained silent, but coloured slowly. ‘Well, whatever his name was. No one would speak to him. And he went away in the end.’

66:

There was silence for a while; Greenleaves sipped his tea. ‘I heard he burnt all his manuscripts, soon after that. Whatever his name was.’

67:

Paul swallowed, and looked away. ‘They cannot have meant all that much to him.’

68:

‘To the contrary. They must have meant everything in the world to him, don’t you think?’

69:

‘Poets can be very tiresome,’ Paul said.

70:

‘You mean their vanity?’

71:

‘That is a part of it, yes.’

72:

‘Or perhaps it’s their sleight-of-hand,’ Greenleaves said, ‘the way they manage to profess a deep concern with the state of men’s souls, while stabbing their friends in the back at the same time — perhaps that’s what you’re thinking of.’

73:

There was a dry quality to Greenleaves’ voice; Paul laughed in spite of himself. ‘You know the world of the artists and poets, then,’ he said. ‘Is that why you shut yourself away here?’

74:

Greenleaves got up abruptly and walked around to the other side of the desk. He leafed through a sheaf of papers, then put them down. ‘No,’ he murmured. ‘Not really.’

75:

‘Julie — Miss Bell, she said you had a book published in England. Is that right?’

76:

Greenleaves stared at him for a moment. ‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘Juvenilia. The work of a youth. It was received well enough, and then forgotten. Thank goodness. But my second book — it was not understood. That would be one way of putting it.’

77:

‘Oh? Julie failed to mention a second book. Why was it — misunderstood, is that what you said?’

78:

‘My, you’re quite to the point, aren’t you? No, don’t apologise. Your questions are refreshing. Well, why was that? I have a dozen different answers, each depending on which of my misanthropic hats I’m wearing at the time.’ He strolled to the window and looked through into the greenhouse. Paul joined him.

79:

‘It was a book of poems in prose,’ Greenleaves said. ‘I admit some of it was difficult, but then I didn’t write it for shop assistants to read on their day off. It was mainly ignored, and when it was reviewed it was reviewed stupidly by people who could barely understand it.’

80:

Paul laughed. ‘You are surprised? Then you surprise me. But that is always the way, is it not?’

81:

‘Indeed. What sort of people get to be the arbiters of literary taste in the modern world? Spiteful grovellers, that’s who; it’s a kind of inverted Darwinism, a natural selection of the least fit by the even less fit. Why go on, I thought, presenting these arduously harvested pearls to those swine?’ Greenleaves laughed, a short, dry laugh. ‘Like my older brother Simon. A poet, quite accomplished, in Latin. No one read his Latin poems. No one. So he translated them into English. The reviewers were very cruel to them, those who bothered to note them at all. Well, I said, perhaps they were just reviewing the English.’ Greenleaves laughed again. ‘To be frank, the English was not all that good. I suggested that he might not be such an accomplished translator. Oh well. Water under the bridge.’

82:

He frowned, and his jaw muscles worked. ‘In any case, I have my own critics right here, with more brains then most reviewers. Do you like parrots?’ He tapped on the glass. ‘That one’s a hundred years old; or so old Malley the gardener used to reckon.’ He pointed into the foliage of the greenhouse, and Paul noticed a splash of crimson and blue: it was a huge macaw climbing awkwardly along a branch. ‘I call that one Pater Familias. He can parrot a dozen of Walter Pater’s opinions on the aesthetic history of the Renaissance with as much conviction and as much understanding as any critic.’ He laughed. ‘Then there’s a white cockatoo called Obiter Dictum — he’s hiding somewhere — and a galah called Michelet, after the historian.’

83:

‘A galah?’

84:

‘The galah is a dim-witted kind of parrot; grey and pink. I think he’s asleep somewhere.’

85:

‘And you named him Michelet?’ Paul was clearly annoyed.

86:

‘Do you have a fondness for Michelet? Of course; he’s French. I didn’t mean to be rude. Allow me to apologise; my games have become too private, perhaps. I have no one to share them with.’

87:

Paul took a moment to reply. ‘Please do not bother to apologise,’ he said. ‘It is of no importance. You say your second book consisted of poems in prose. Tell me, was your first book verse? That would satisfy Michelet, who predicted such a shift from verse to prose as humankind developed.’

French historian Michelet. From the internet.

88:

‘That’s very perceptive of you,’ said Greenleaves. His tone was cool.

89:

‘After all, poetry is a very rudimentary form: Homer is full of a brutal energy, but he is primitive compared to the sophistication of a Flaubert. But the next step is more difficult: beyond literature, into action.’

90:

‘Did Michelet advise that, specifically?’

91:

‘He said that the modern hero would be the man of action. The age of dreamers and philosophers was over. The future belonged to explorers, inventors and scientists.’

92:

‘And Satan, I think he said, was the first scientist.’ Greenleaves looked at Paul shrewdly. ‘And pride goeth before a fall.’

93:

Paul was at a loss for a reply. He turned to the desk, littered with learning. ‘And this? Is this the building material from which you shall make your third book? There’s certainly enough of it. But then, perhaps you have turned your back on your readers.’

94:

Greenleaves shot him a look. ‘Wouldn’t you?’ he said. ‘I saw those pathetic figures in the Paris cafés, the poets and the journalists, lashing the middle class with one hand and begging for their recognition with the other.’

95:

Paul stared at him. ‘So did I,’ he said. The parrot clambered back along the branch, and gazed at them through the glass with its rheumy eyes. It bobbed its head, and cried out in a harsh voice. Paul looked at the three large frames hanging empty at the end of the room. He wondered what they had held: the conventional thing, a painting of a stag on a windy mountain crag with a rushing stream at his feet, perhaps; or something more contemporary, a romantic seascape?

96:

Greenleaves followed his gaze, and smiled. ‘You’re wondering about my friend’s paintings,’ he said. ‘It’s a sad story. A kind of fable, penned by a bad fairy, to illustrate the cruelty of provincialism. I think you’d appreciate the irony of it.’

97:

‘Provincialism?’

98:

‘One of the reasons I went to Paris was that I hoped to promote the work of a friend of mine, an Australian painter called Whiteman, very modern. The man had unknowingly reinvented something like Impressionism, though more vigorous and full of the most violent emotional expressions. One of those frames held a still life, though it was anything but still: it seemed to want to jump out of the canvas at you, and instead of a hare whose fur catches the light like an expensive coat, the animal is flayed, and the red flesh glares out at the viewer. This one —’ Greenleaves pointed ‘— was a landscape with a bushfire, dark and threatening and shot through with orange flame; it seemed to heave like the sea, and burning animals writhed in its depths. And the other, over here, was a shipwreck: waves that reared up higher than a building and showed you through their glassy flanks glimpses of a green hell a thousand feet deep. You can imagine how little his work is understood here in the colony.’

99:

‘I think I know these shipwrecks.’

100:

‘Well, the popular thing here is a picture of a horse and carriage, or a dog in a bonnet. Paris, I thought; the centre of the modern world. They’ll understand him there. I mentioned I was in Paris in ’73; the Salon de Réfuses had everybody excited. That kind of artistic turmoil is exactly where his work should be situated, at the centre of the whirlpool, I thought. I had some of his canvases with me. I hoped to interest some of the dealers; perhaps a few critics, a painter or two.’

101:

‘I think I can predict the end of your story. A paradoxical ending.’

102:

‘Indeed. I talked to a few of the Impressionist painters. Did you see their exhibition in ’74?’

103:

‘No, I was in England for most of the year, then Germany. I heard something about it.’

104:

‘I thought some of them would understand what Whiteman was up to. But no. You see, in Paris they didn’t want to hear about a good second-rank colonial Impressionist, they couldn’t be bothered, they had their careers to think about: you had to be part of the pack in Paris to matter. No one in the colony here understood his work, and no one in Paris cared.’

105:

‘But time is on his side. These things take time.’

Australian artist John Peter Russell, “Seascape”, nineteenth century. From the internet.

106:

‘Oh no, forgive me, but you’re quite wrong. In the world of fashion — and the world of painting, like dressmaking, is of course a branch of the fashion industry — time, or timing, is of the essence. Impressionism will change and develop into something new and within a year or two poor Whiteman’s work will be out of date as well as avant-garde, and really buried for good. That’s the price you pay for the peace and quiet of the countryside. That’s the curse of provincialism. No matter how good the work, it is doomed to be ignored by history, for history is written elsewhere, among the gossip of cliques.’

107:

‘That is sad,’ Paul said. ‘I trust he had the spirit to keep on with his work. After all, what do a few painters and critics at the other end of the world matter? In a country as empty as this, where everything must be invented all over from the beginning, any original artist with the courage of his convictions must be especially valuable. Your history lies ahead of you.’

108:

‘I took you for a cynic, dyed in the wool,’ Greenleaves said, ‘and you disappoint me. Here you are showing your colours as an optimist and a patriot.’

109:

Paul laughed. ‘Perhaps I was carried away by the drama of the artistic problems of your Mister Whiteman. But tell me about the empty frames.’

110:

Greenleaves gazed at them for a moment, as though trying to recreate in his mind’s eye the paintings that had once hung there: the violent still life that seemed to leap from the frame, the bushfire consuming its creatures, the murderous green flood. ‘He asked to have them back for a while, to copy them, he said. But that wasn’t the reason; he’d reached the end of the road. He destroyed all his work in a fit of madness. He burnt his studio to the ground, and everything in it.’

111:

‘Ah. Yes, of course. Of course. Either too weak, or too proud, to go on. Tell me, does anything survive? I should like to see something, even a sketch, perhaps.’

112:

‘No, there’s nothing left, as far as I can determine,’ Greenleaves said. ‘It’s over for him. He drank; and the blend of alcohol and failure is lethal to talent in the end, one way or another. Either the long road of decline and dissolution, or the quick descent into the dark. He’s still alive, I believe, but no longer as a painter.’

113:

‘You are correct, the road leads nowhere. You know, it seems proper what he did. I mean, to extinguish it all, to wipe out all traces of what he had tried to do. I can understand that. In fact, I admire it.’

114:

‘Do you?’ Greenleaves asked. ‘I find it childish, I’m afraid.’

115:

‘The motivation may be childish, perhaps, but the implications of the act are on a grander scale than that.’

116:

Greenleaves shook his head. ‘Sophistry,’ he said. He walked over to the desk and looked through a few pages of the notes he had been working on. ‘I sometimes wonder why there is so much emotion attached to art — I mean, to the making and selling of art. Why can’t people paint and sell pictures the way people make and sell wallpaper? That’s the mystery. Is it just vanity? You don’t hear of a wallpaper manufacturer taking to drink because no one understands his flock patterns, or a house painter in a fit of despair because people don’t want green verandas any more.’

117:

Paul smiled. ‘Your Australian bungalows need their verandahs — both words are Hindi, originally, aren’t they, bungalow, and verandah? Verandas have a use,’ he said. ‘No one needs a painting, or a novel.’ He indicated the writing machine on its table. ‘Have you found that you can obtain inspiration from your machine?’

Chess, Mirror. From the internet.

118:

‘I spend most of my time hunting for the letter I want. One day I shall become as proficient as one of those young typewriting fellows who work in business offices. It has a strange effect, one I hadn’t predicted: I find my thought wanders quite poetically when I’m composing upon the writing machine, which happens to be an irritant at present. I’m trying to compose an essay on symmetry in chess, and I need to keep my style severe.’ From among the heap of papers he picked up a leather-bound booklet with the title On the Use of Mirrors in the Game of Chess. ‘I’ve been researching it as best I can. It’s an absorbing topic. The chess board is bilaterally symmetrical on the diagonal axis, yet the basic patterns of the game are enantiomorphic across the horizontal and vertical axes.’

119:

‘Forgive me, I do not grasp your point here.’

120:

‘It’s a technical term. Your left hand is an enantiomorph of your right; a glove pulled inside out is its own enantiomorph: a three-dimensional mirror image. But I mustn’t drag you down these obscure mental pathways of mine. Would you care for some more tea? I’m afraid this lot has gone cold. No? I think I have some American whiskey somewhere — Never mind.’

121:

‘To talk of Michelet in Wagga Wagga is quite a surprise. It has made me think — about Paris, about many things I thought I had put behind me. I trust you will forgive me for leaving. My mind is racing, as you say. Speeding along. I think I should go now.’ He shook Greenleaves’ hand. ‘Goodbye.’
 
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