SALE OF COLLEGE PROPERTY
"MATRIMONY was ordained, thirdly," said Jane Studdock to herself, "for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other." She had not been to church since her schooldays until she went there six months ago to be married, and the words of the service had stuck in her mind.
Through the open door she could see the tiny kitchen of the flat and knew how tidy it was. The beds were made and the rooms "done". There was nothing that had to be done till six o'clock, even supposing that Mark was really coming home for dinner. But there was a College meeting today. Almost certainly Mark would ring up about tea-time to say that the meeting was taking longer than he had expected and that he would have to dine in College.
"Mutual society, help, and comfort," said Jane bitterly. In reality marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement.
"Here I am, starting to waste another morning, mooning," said Jane to herself sharply. "I must do some work."By work she meant her doctorate thesis on Donne. She still believed that if she got out all her note-books and editions and really sat down to the job she could force herself back into her lost enthusiasm for the subject. But before she did so she turned over a newspaper which was lying on the table and glanced at a picture on the back page.
The moment she saw the picture, she remembered her dream; not only the dream but the time after she had crept out of bed and sat waiting for the morning, afraid to put on the light for fear Mark should wake up and fuss, yet feeling offended by the sound of his regular breathing. He was an excellent sleeper. Only one thing ever seemed able to keep him awake after he had gone to bed, and even that did not keep him awake for long.
She had begun by dreaming simply of a face. It was a foreign-looking face, bearded and rather yellow, with a hooked nose. It was frightened. The mouth sagged open and the eyes stared as she had seen other men's eyes stare for a second or two when some sudden shock had occurred. But this face seemed to be meeting a shock that lasted for hours. Then gradually she became aware of more. The face belonged to a man who was sitting hunched up in one corner of a little square room with white-washed walls. At last the door was opened and a rather good-looking man with a pointed grey beard came in. The prisoner seemed to recognise him as an old acquaintance and they began to talk. In all the dreams which Jane had hitherto dreamed, one either understood what the dream-people were saying or else one did not hear it. But in this dream-and that helped to make its extraordinary realism-the conversation was in French, and Jane understood bits of it, but by no means all, just as she would have done in real life. The visitor was telling the prisoner something which he apparently intended him to regard as good news. And the prisoner at first looked up with a gleam of hope in his eye and said "Tiens .. . ah.. . fa marche": but then he wavered and changed his mind. The visitor continued in a low, fluent voice to press his point. He was a good-looking man in his rather cold way, but he wore pince-nez, and these kept on catching the light so as to make his eyes invisible. This, combined with the almost unnatural perfection of his teeth, gave Jane a disagreeable impression. She could not make out what it was that the visitor was proposing. At this point the dream became nightmare. The visitor, still smiling his cold smile, seized the prisoner's head between his hands. He gave it a sharp turn-just as Jane had last summer seen men give a sharp turn to the helmet on a diver's head. The visitor unscrewed the prisoner's head and took it away. Then all became confused. The head was still the centre of the dream, but it was a different head now-a head with a reddish-white beard all covered with earth. It belonged to an old man whom some people were digging up in a kind of churchyard-a sort of ancient British, druidical kind of man, in a long mantle. This ancient thing was coming to life. "Look out!" she cried in her dream. "He's alive. Stop! stop! You're waking him."But they did not stop. The old, buried man sat up and began talking in something that sounded vaguely like Spanish. And this frightened Jane so badly that she woke up.
But it was not the mere memory of a nightmare that made the room swim before Jane's eyes. There, on the back page of the newspaper, was the head she had seen in the nightmare : the first head (if there had been two of them) - the head of the prisoner. She took up the paper. EXECUTION OF ALCASAN was the headline, and beneath it, SCIENTIST BLUEBEARD GOES TO GUILLOTINE. She remembered having vaguely followed the case. Alcasan was a distinguished radiologist in a neighbouring country-an Arab by descent, they said-who had cut short a brilliant career by poisoning his wife. So that was the origin of her dream. She must have looked at this photo in the paper before going to bed. But that couldn't be it. It was this morning's paper. But of course there must have been some earlier picture which she had seen and forgotten-weeks ago when the trial began. And now for Donne.
"I must get back my power of concentrating," said Jane: and then, "Was there a previous picture of Alcasan? Supposing . ."
Five minutes later she swept all her books away, went to the mirror, put on her hat, and went out. She was not sure where she was going. Anywhere, to be out of that flat, that whole house.
Mark, meanwhile, was walking down to Bracton College. Edgestow is the smallest of universities. Apart from Bracton and from the new women's college beyond the railway, there are only two colleges; Northumberland, below Bracton on the River Wynd, and Duke's opposite the Abbey. Bracton takes no undergraduates. It was founded in 1300 for the support of ten learned men whose duties were to pray for the soul of Henry de Bracton and study the laws of England. The number of Fellows has gradually increased to forty, of whom only six now study Law and of whom none, perhaps, prays for the soul of Bracton. Mark Studdock was a Sociologist and had been elected five years ago. He was beginning to find his feet. If he had felt any doubt on that point (which he did not) it would have been laid to rest when he found himself meeting Curry just outside the post office, and seen how natural Curry found it that they should walk to College together and discuss the agenda for the meeting. Curry was the sub-warden of Bracton.
"Yes," said Curry. "It will take the hell of a time. Probably go on after dinner. We shall have the obstructionists wasting time. Luckily that's the worst they can do."
You would never have guessed from the tone of Studdock's reply what intense pleasure he derived from Curry's use of the pronoun "we". So very recently he had been an outsider, watching the proceedings of what he then called "Curry and his gang" with awe and with little understanding. Now he was inside, and "the gang" was "we" or "the progressive element in College". It had happened quite suddenly and was still sweet in the mouth.
"You think it'll go through, then?" said Studdock.
"Sure to," said Curry. "We've got the Warden, and the Bursar, and all the chemical and biochemical people for a start. Bill the Blizzard will probably do something pretty devastating, but he's bound to side with us if it comes to a vote. Besides: I haven't yet told you. Dick's going to be there. He came up in time for dinner last night."
Studdock's mind darted hither and thither in search of some safe way to conceal the fact that he did not know who Dick was. In the nick of time he remembered a very obscure colleague whose Christian name was Richard.
"Telford?" said Studdock in a puzzled voice. He knew very well that Telford could not be the Dick that Curry meant.
"Good Lord! Telford!" said Curry with a laugh. "No. I mean Lord Feverstone-Dick Devine as he used to be."
"I was a little baffled by the idea of Telford," said Studdock, joining in the laugh. "I'm glad Feverstone is coming. I've never met him you know."
"Oh, but you must," said Curry. "Look here, come and dine in my rooms to-night. I've asked him."
"I should like to very much," said Studdock quite truly. And then, after a pause, "By the way, I suppose Feverstone's own position is quite secure?"
"How do you mean?" asked Curry.
"Well, there was some talk, if you remember, as to whether someone who was away quite so much could go on holding a Fellowship."
"Oh, you mean Glossop and all that ramp. Nothing will come of that. Didn't you think it absolute blah?"
"As between ourselves, yes. But I confess if I were put up to explain in public exactly why a man who is nearly always in London should go on being a Fellow of Bracton, I shouldn't find it altogether easy. The real reasons are the sort that Watson would call imponderables."
"I don't agree. Isn't it important to have influential connections with the outer world? It's not in the least impossible that Dick will be in the next Cabinet. Even already Dick in London has been a damn sight more use to the College than Glossop and half a dozen others of that sort have been by sitting here all their lives."
"Yes. Of course that's the real point. It would be a little difficult to put in that form at a College meeting, though!"
"There's one thing," said Curry in a slightly less intimate tone, "that perhaps you ought to know about Dick."
"He got you your Fellowship."
Mark was silent. He did not like things which reminded him that he had once been not only outside the progressive element but even outside the College. He did not always like Curry either. His pleasure in being with him was not that sort of pleasure.
"Yes," said Curry. "Denniston was your chief rival. Between ourselves, a good many people liked his papers better than yours. It was Dick who insisted all through that you were the sort of man we really wanted. And I must say he turned out to be right."
"Very kind of you," said Studdock with a little mock bow. He was surprised at the turn the conversation had taken. It was an old rule at Bracton that one never mentioned in the presence of a man the circumstances of his own election, and Studdock had not realised till now that this also was one of the traditions the Progressive Element was prepared to scrap.
"I'm glad you're going to meet Dick," said Curry. "We haven't time now, but there's one thing about him I wanted to discuss with you."
Studdock looked enquiringly at him. "James and I and one or two others," said Curry in a somewhat lower voice, "have been thinking he ought to be the new warden. But here we are."
"It's not yet twelve," said Studdock. "What about popping into the Bristol for a drink?"
Into the Bristol they accordingly went. It would not have been easy to preserve the atmosphere in which the Progressive Element operated without a good many of these little courtesies. This weighed harder on Studdock than on Curry, who was unmarried and had a sub-warden's stipend.
The only time I was a guest at Bracton I persuaded my host to let me into the Wood and leave me there alone for an hour.
Very few people were allowed into Bragdon Wood. If you came in from the street and went through the College to reach it, the sense of gradual penetration into a holy of holies was very strong. First you went through the Newton quadrangle, which is dry and gravelly. Next you must enter a cool, tunnel-like passage, nearly dark at midday unless either the door into Hall should be open on your right or the buttery hatch on your left, giving you a glimpse of indoor daylight falling on panels and a whiff of the smell of fresh bread. When you emerged from this tunnel you would find yourself in the cloister of the much smaller quadrangle called Republic. Chapel is not far off: the hoarse, heavy noise of the works of a great and old clock comes to you from somewhere overhead. You went along this cloister, past slabs and urns and busts that commemorate dead Bractonians, and then down shallow steps into the full daylight of the quadrangle called Lady Alice. There were no buildings straight ahead on the fourth side of Lady Alice: only a row of elms and a wall; and here first one became aware of the sound of running water and the cooing of wood pigeons. In the wall there was a door. It led you into a covered gallery pierced with narrow windows on either side. Looking out through these, you discovered that you were crossing a bridge and the dark-brown dimpled Wynd was flowing under you. Now you were very near your goal. A wicket at the far end of the bridge brought you out on the Fellows' bowling-green, and across that you saw the high wall of the Wood, and through the Inigo Jones gate you caught a glimpse of sunlit green and deep shadows.
Half a mile is a short walk. Yet it seemed a long time before I came to the centre of the Wood. I knew it was the centre, for there was the thing I had chiefly come to see. It was a well: a well with steps going down to it and the remains of an ancient pavement about it. It was very imperfect now. This was the heart of Bracton or Bragdon Wood: out of this all the legends had come. The archaeologists were agreed that the masonry was very late British-Roman work, done on the very eve of the Anglo-Saxon invasion.
There is good evidence that the well with the British-Roman pavement was already "Merlin's Well " in the fourteenth century, though the name is not found till Queen Elizabeth's reign.
The most controversial business before the College meeting was the question of selling Bragdon Wood. The purchaser was the N.I.C.E., the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments. They wanted a site for the building which would worthily house this remarkable organisation. The N.I.C.E. was the first-fruit of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints-" red tape " was the word its supporters used-which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy. Persistent pressure and endless diplomacy on the part of the Senate of Edgestow had lured the new Institute away from Oxford, from Cambridge, from London. It had thought of all these in turn as possible scenes for its labours. At times the Progressive Element in Edgestow had almost despaired. But success was now practically certain. If the N.I.C.E. could get the necessary land, it would come to Edgestow.
Three years ago, if Mark had come to a College meeting at which such a question was to be decided, he would have expected to hear the claims of sentiment against progress and beauty against utility openly debated. He knew now that that was not the way things are done. The Progressive Element managed its business really very well. Most of the Fellows did not know that there was any question of selling the Wood. They saw, of course, from their agenda paper that Item 15 was "Sale of College Land", but as that appeared at every College meeting, they were not very interested. They also saw that Item 1 was "Questions about Bragdon Wood". These were not concerned with the proposed sale. Curry, as sub-warden, had some letters to read. The first was from a society concerned for the preservation of ancient monuments. I think myself that this society had been ill-advised to make two complaints. It would have been wiser if they had confined themselves to drawing the College's attention to the disrepair of the wall round the Wood. When they went on to urge the desirability of building some protection over the Well itself the College began to be restive. Before Curry sat down, everyone in the room desired strongly to make the outer world understand that Bragdon Wood was the private property of Bracton College. Then he rose again to read another letter. This was from a society of Spiritualists who wanted leave to investigate the "reported phenomena" in the Wood - a letter "connected," as Curry said, "with the next, which, with the Warden's permission, "I will now read to you." This was from a firm who had heard of the Spiritualists' proposal and wanted permission to make a film of the Spiritualists looking for the phenomena. Curry was directed to write short refusals to all three letters.
Then came a new voice. Lord Feverstone had risen. He agreed with the action taken about these letters from busybodies outside. But was it not, after all, a fact that the wall of the Wood was in a very unsatisfactory condition? At once the Bursar, James Busby, was on his feet. He welcomed Lord Feverstone's question. He had recently taken expert advice about the wall of the Wood. "Unsatisfactory" was too mild a word. Nothing but a complete new wall would meet the situation. With great difficulty the probable cost of this was elicited from him: and when the College heard the figure it gasped. Lord Feverstone enquired whether the Bursar was seriously proposing that the College should undertake such an expense. Busby (a large ex-clergyman with a bushy black beard) replied with some temper that if he were to make a suggestion it would be that the question could not be treated in isolation from some important financial considerations which it would become his duty to lay before them later in the day. There was a pause at this ominous statement, until gradually, one by one, the "outsiders" and "obstructionists", the men not included in the Progressive Element, began coming into the debate. The Progressive Element let them talk for nearly ten minutes. Then Lord Feverstone wanted to know whether it was possible that the Bursar and the Preservation Committee could really find no alternative between building a new wall and allowing Bragdon Wood to degenerate into a common. The Bursar answered in a low voice that he had in a purely theoretical way got some facts about possible alternatives. A barbed-wire fence-but the rest was drowned in a roar of disapproval. Finally, the matter was postponed for consideration at the next meeting.
During this item the thoughts of more than one Fellow had turned to lunch, and attention had wandered. But when Curry rose at five minutes to one to introduce Item 2, there was a sharp revival of interest. It was called "Rectification of an Anomaly in the Stipends of Junior Fellows". I would not like to say what the junior Fellows of Bracton were getting at this time, but I believe it hardly covered the expenses of their residence in College. Studdock, who had recently emerged from this class, understood the look in their faces. The Bursar rose to reply to Curry's proposal. He hoped that no one would imagine he approved the anomaly which had, in 1910, excluded the lowest class of the Fellows from the new clauses in the eighteenth paragraph of Statute 17; but it was his duty to point out that this was the second proposal involving heavy expenditure which had come before them that morning. It could not be isolated from the whole problem of the financial position of the College which he hoped to lay before them during the afternoon. A great deal more was said, but when, at quarter to two, the meeting adjourned for lunch, every junior had it fixed in his mind that a new wall for the Wood and a rise in his own stipend were strictly exclusive alternatives.
In this frame of mind the College returned after lunch to consider its finances. It was a sunny afternoon; and the smooth flow of the Bursar's exposition had a sort of hypnotic power. Fellows of colleges do not always find money matters easy to understand. They gathered that the situation was bad; very bad indeed. It is very seldom that the affairs of a large corporation, indefinitely committed to the advancement of learning, can be described as being, in a quite unambiguous sense, satisfactory. Some minor retrenchments and re-investments were approved, and the College adjourned for tea in a chastened mood. Studdock rang up Jane and told her he would not be home for dinner.
It was not till six o'clock that all the converging lines of thought and feeling aroused by the earlier business came together upon the question of selling Bragdon Wood. It was not called the sale "of Bragdon Wood", but "of the area coloured pink on the plan which, with the Warden's permission, I will now pass round the table". Curry admitted that this involved the loss of part of the Wood. In fact, the proposed N.I.C.E. site still left to the College a strip about sixteen feet broad along the far half of the south side. In answer to questions he admitted that unfortunately -or perhaps fortunately-the Well itself was in the area which the N.I.C.E. wanted. The rights of the College to access would, of course, be guaranteed: and the Well and its pavement would be preserved by the Institute. He refrained from advice and merely mentioned the quite astonishing figure which the N.I.C.E. was offering. After that, the meeting became lively. The advantages of the sale discovered themselves one by one like ripe fruit dropping into the hand. It solved the problem of the wall: it solved the problem of protecting ancient monuments: it solved the financial problem: it looked like solving the problem of the junior Fellows' stipends.
The few real "Die-hards" present, to whom Bragdon Wood was almost a basic assumption of life, could hardly bring themselves to realise what was happening. When at last old Jewel, blind and shaky, rose to his feet, his voice was hardly audible. At this moment Lord Feverstone folded his arms, and looking straight at the old man said in a very loud, clear voice:
"If Canon Jewel wishes us not to hear his views, I suggest that his end could be better attained by silence."
Jewel had been already old in the days before the first war when old men were treated with kindness, and he had never succeeded in getting used to the modern world. He stared with puzzled eyes. The motion was carried.
After leaving the flat that morning Jane also had gone down to Edgestow and had bought a hat, when Mrs. Dimble met her coming out of Sparrow's and said: "Hullo, dear! Been buying a hat ? Come home to lunch and let's see it. Cecil has the car just round the corner."
Cecil Dimble, a Fellow of Northumberland, had been Jane's tutor for her last years as a student, and Mrs. Dimble (one tended to call her "Mother Dimble") had been a kind of universal aunt to all the girls of her year. A liking for the female pupils of one's husband is not, perhaps, so common as might be wished among dons' wives: but Mrs. Dimble appeared to like all Dr. Dimble's pupils.
They drove over the bridge to the north of Bracton and then south along the bank of the Wynd to the Dimbles' front door.
"How lovely it's looking!" said Jane as she got out of the car. The Dimbles' garden was famous.
"You'd better take a good look at it then," said Dr. Dimble.
"What do you mean?" asked Jane.
"Haven't you told her?" said Dr. Dimble to his wife.
"I haven't screwed myself up to it yet," said Mrs. Dimble. "Anyway, I expect she knows. Your own college is being so tiresome, dear. They're turning us out. They won't renew the lease."
"Oh, Mrs. Dimble!" exclaimed Jane. "And I didn't even know this was Bracton property. Mark never talks about College business."
"Good husbands never do," said Dr. Dimble. "At least only about the business of other people's colleges. Is no one coming in to have lunch?"
Dimble guessed that Bracton was going to sell the Wood and everything else it owned on that side of the river, and felt too strongly on the subject to wish to talk about it before the wife of one of the Bracton men.
"You'll have to wait for your lunch till I've seen Jane's new hat," said Mother Dimble, and forthwith hurried Jane upstairs. Then followed some minutes of conversation which was strictly feminine in the old-fashioned sense. Jane, while preserving a certain sense of superiority, found it indefinably comforting. When the hat was being put away again Mrs. Dimble suddenly said:
"There's nothing wrong, is there?"
"Wrong," said Jane. "Why? What should there be?"
"You're not looking yourself."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Jane, aloud. Mentally she added: "She's dying to know whether I'm going to have a baby. That sort of woman always is."
"Do you hate being kissed?" said Mrs. Dimble unexpectedly.
"Do I hate being kissed?" thought Jane to herself. "That indeed is the question. Hope not for mind in women---" She had intended to reply "Of course not," but inexplicably, and to her great annoyance, found herself crying instead. And then, for a moment, Mrs. Dimble became simply a grown-up as grown-ups had been when one was a very small child. Not to detest being petted and pawed was contrary to her whole theory of life: yet before they went downstairs she had told Mrs. Dimble that she was not going to have a baby but was a bit depressed from being very much alone and from a nightmare.
During lunch Dr. Dimble talked about the Arthurian legend. "It's really wonderful," he said, "how the whole thing hangs together, even in a late version like Malory's. You've noticed how there are two sets of characters? There's Guinevere and Lancelot and all those, all very courtly and nothing particularly British about them. But then in the background there are all those dark people like Morgan and Morgawse, who are very British indeed and-usually more or less hostile. Mixed up with magic. Merlin too, of course, is British. Doesn't it look very like a picture of Britain as it must have been on the eve of the invasion?"
"How do you mean, Dr. Dimble?" said Jane. "Well, wouldn't there have been one section of society that was almost purely Roman ? People talking a Celticised Latin-something that would sound to us rather like Spanish: and fully Christian. But farther up country, in the out-of-the-way places, there would have been little courts ruled by real old British under-kings, talking something like Welsh, and practising a certain amount of the Druidical religion."
"And which would Arthur himself have been?" said Jane.
"One can imagine a man of the old British line, but a Christian and a fully-trained general with Roman technique, trying to pull this whole society together. There'd be jealousy from his own British family. And always that under-tow, that tug back to Druidism."
"And where would Merlin be?"
"Yes. . . . He's the really interesting figure. Did the whole thing fail because he died so soon? Has it ever struck you what an odd creation Merlin is ? He's not evil: yet he's a magician. He is obviously a druid: yet he knows all about the Grail."
"It is rather puzzling. I hadn't thought of it before."
"I often wonder," said Dr. Dimble, " whether Merlin doesn't represent the last trace of something that became impossible when the only people in touch with the supernatural were either white or black, either priests or sorcerers."
"What a horrid idea," said Mrs. Dimble. "Anyway, Merlin happened a long time ago if he happened at all, and he's safely dead and buried under Bragdon Wood as we all know."
"Buried but not dead, according to the story," corrected Dr. Dimble.
"Ugh!" said Jane involuntarily.
"I wonder what they will find if they start digging up that place for the foundations of their N.I.C.E.," said Dr. Dimble.
"First mud and then water," said Mrs. Dimble. "That's why they can't really build it there."
"So you'd think," said her husband. "And if so, why should they want to come here at all? They're not likely to be influenced by any poetic fancy about Merlin's mantle having fallen on them!"
"Merlin's mantle indeed!" said Mrs. Dimble.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "It's a rum idea. I dare say some of his set would like to recover the mantle well enough. I don't think they'd like it if the old man himself came back to life along with it."
"That child's going to faint," said Mrs. Dimble suddenly.
"Hullo! What's the matter?" said Dr. Dimble, looking with amazement at Jane's face. "Is the room too hot for you?"
"Oh, it's too ridiculous," said Jane. "Let's come into the drawing-room," said Dr. Dimble. "Here, iean on my arm."
In the drawing-room Jane attempted to excuse her behaviour by telling the story of her dream. "I suppose I've given myself away dreadfully," she said. "You can both start psycho-analysing me now."
From Dr. Dimble's face Jane might have indeed conjectured that her dream had shocked him exceedingly. "Extraordinary thing . . ." he kept muttering. "Two heads. And one of them Alcasan's. Now is that a false scent?"
"Don't, Cecil," said Mrs. Dimble.
"Do you think I ought to be analysed?" said Jane.
"Analysed?" said Dr. Dimble, as if he had not quite understood. "Oh, I see. You mean going to Brizeacre or someone?"
Jane realised that her question had recalled him from some quite different train of thought. The telling of her dream had raised some other problem, though what this was she could not even imagine.
Dr. Dimble looked out of the window. "There is my dullest pupil just ringing the bell," he said. "I must go to the study." He stood for a moment with his hand on Jane's shoulder. "Look here," he said, "I'm not going to give any advice. But if you do decide to go to anyone about that dream, I wish you would first consider going to someone whose address Margery or I will give you."
"You don't believe in Mr. Brizeacre?" said Jane. "I can't explain," said Dr. Dimble. "Not now. Try not to bother about it. But if you do, just let us know first. Good-bye."
Almost immediately after his departure some other visitors arrived, so that there was no opportunity of further private conversation between Jane and her hostess. She left the Dimbles about half an hour later and walked home.