"So where did you get to last night?" Harding asked, as Andrew came down to the lounge, prior to breakfast, at about 8.30am. "I was looking for you, you know."
"Is that so?" the writer wearily responded, a slight but perceptible blush in swift accompaniment. "Well, as a matter of fact I was, er, invited by young Pauline to view her private library and, er, listen to her reading some poems. I was in her bedroom."
"Ah, so that's where you were!" Harding exclaimed with evident relief. "I had no idea. Thought you might have gone to bed."
"What, with Pauline?"
Harding had to laugh. "No, with yourself of course! Hey, don't look so aggrieved! I didn't mean to offend you."
"I'm sincerely glad to hear it!" Andrew declared, feeling somewhat relieved in spite of his determination not to let on. But he was secretly annoyed with himself for taking quick offence and jumping to conclusions. He oughtn't to have lost his cool like that!
"So what did you think of her poems?" Harding wanted to know, latching-on to the most credible straw available.
"Not a great deal, actually. They were the sort of second-rate things young females like her often write, if you know what I mean."
"Yes, I think so," Harding admitted, nodding vaguely. "Rather maudlin, I expect."
"And tedious," Andrew affirmed. "Why, I was obliged to persevere with them until gone twelve, before I could get to bed!" Which wasn't entirely true, though he knew that better than anyone. For the fact that he had made love to Pauline from half-eleven till nearly was a matter he would have to keep to himself. Just as he would have to keep all his feelings about her to himself - the vertiginous impression her tender sexuality had made on him, the delight in ravishing a virgin - for she had actually been one - for the first time, the suspense created by the close proximity of her parents, and so on. If he was bored by her poems, her body had excited him enormously - a fact which might be said to have more than adequately compensated him for his previous inconvenience! It was one of the most seductive bodies he had ever beheld, as fresh and soft as only a young woman's body can be, and he had drunk of its love-juice until his thirst was quenched, had eaten of its sex-fruit until his hunger was appeased. She had become a real feast for him, and he had come away not merely satisfied by satiated, positively reeling with sex. Realizing the extent of its beauty, he had spared her body nothing. The virgin stronghold had been breached and the citadel of her womb taken by peremptory storm. Her labia had been prized apart, like the succulent segments of a luscious tangerine, and his tongue had lasciviously partaken of the most delicious flesh it had ever known. She had struck him as intensely desirable, more desirable than poems could ever hope to express, and he had wasted no time, once he got her undressed, in letting her know it! No woman could look so attractive and fail to reap the harvest her body so richly deserved!
"Well, now that you've heard them, at least you won't have to persevere with her poems again," Harding was saying, as though to himself.
"No, I suppose not," Andrew agreed, blushing slightly. "By the way, what time are we leaving here today?"
"Some time this afternoon, I should imagine," Harding replied. "Why, do you have to be back home by any specific hour?"
"No, not really; though I'd like to be back in good time for my customary Sunday-evening bath and hair wash, if you don't mind." It was a flimsy excuse, but better than nothing.
Harding smiled benignly. "I think we can arrange that," he stated in a faintly condescending tone-of-voice. "Incidentally, you may be interested to learn that I've been commissioned by our generous host to paint portraits of his family, both separately and collectively, during the coming weeks. So I'll be seeing a lot more of the Graces."
"Congratulations!" Andrew exclaimed, extending a friendly hand to the artist's left arm. "I wish you every success."
"Thanks," responded Harding, who appeared visibly flattered by his neighbour's gesture. "I could certainly do with it. However, now that I have a chance to speak to you while we're alone together, I'd be grateful if you avoided the temptation to get yourself re-involved in the kind of controversial discussion you were having yesterday with young Edwin Ford in Mr Grace's presence. He wasn't particularly impressed by it, as I'm sure you're fully aware, and, frankly, it's altogether doubtful he would take kindly to anything bordering on a repeat performance today."
Andrew felt momentarily taken-aback by this prohibitive utterance, which struck him as singularly impertinent. But, to save argument, he agreed to steer clear of deep water, if only for his neighbour's sake. He realized, of course, that Harding was only out for his own professional ends and didn't want anyone to upset Henry Grace and thereby jeopardize his prospects of commercial success. However, since Edwin Ford would have returned to his parents' house in the meantime, there seemed little chance that a recrudescence of political and religious theorizing, incompatible with their host's own rather more conservative beliefs and loyalties, would occur, there being no-one else in the house likely to incite Andrew to his former polemical eloquence. Providing Mr Grace didn't challenge him to defend his views, it looked as though the writer would have to be content with saying very little - a fact which Harding could hardly fail to endorse!
"Well, now that I've said my piece," the painter rejoined, "I feel a lot better towards you than was the case yesterday evening, when your argumentative outburst caused me so much embarrassment. I know you didn't mean to upset anyone, but the fact that you have such different views on a variety of issues than me is something which, at least in the presence of Mr Grace, I'd rather you kept to yourself, if you don't mind. That way least harm can be done."
"I'll try my best," Andrew promised, feeling, in spite of his show of calm, a passionate contempt for this arrogant bastard who dared tell him how to behave, as if he were a child who needed to be kept in check! My God, to what craven lengths some people could stoop to further their vainglorious ambitions! How low they could get! How petty and eaten-up by their own insolent pride! Indeed, it was as much as Andrew could do to prevent himself from giving this opportunistic social climber a vigorous tongue-lashing and thereby reducing him in size to something more compatible with his fundamental baseness. But as though in anticipation of the fact he was about to do so, Mrs Grace suddenly entered the room and announced to the two men facing each other there that breakfast was ready. He would just have to postpone the airing of his grievances until a more propitious opportunity!
During breakfast, the occupants of the table remained on fairly cordial terms with one another, Henry Grace and Robert Harding continuing their conversation on art from approximately where they had left off the previous night, whilst everyone else, including Andrew and Pauline, maintained a respectful if slightly resentful silence - the general feeling being that two or three separate conversations running simultaneously across the table would not have been appreciated by Mr Grace who, as master of the house, preferred attention to be focused on himself, and thus on matters closer to hand. This, at any rate, was the case as far as Carol, Pauline, and Mrs Grace were concerned; though Andrew felt in no mood to enter into conversation with anyone at all, particularly with the host and his chief guest, whom he now felt obliged to regard with unmitigated disdain. Nevertheless, the attractive face of young Pauline Grace opposite him could hardly be ignored, least of all when she looked at him with a vaguely conspiratorial expression on it, as she did on more than one occasion during breakfast, as if to say: 'Don't let them bother you. Let's just remember how much pleasure we got from each other last night!'
Yes, there was something decidedly charming about the presence of Mr Grace's daughter at table that morning, a presence which, for Andrew, had the not unpredictable effect of lifting his spirits a little. At least he had no cause to regard her as an enemy; no more cause, for that matter, than to regard Philip as one, even though he sat in-between Harding and himself and occasionally said a word or two, across the conversation raging between the champions of representational art, on behalf of Transcendental Meditation and athletics - two seemingly incompatible devotions to which he somehow managed to reconcile himself. But that was the way of Pauline's brother who, to the writer's covert disapproval, regarded meditation as a means to improving his bodily powers, and had not yet learnt to differentiate between spirit and matter. He was too young, in short, to be particularly spiritual, and too well-built, moreover, to be anything but athletic. Whether he would eventually sort himself out and change for what Andrew would have regarded as the better, remained to be seen; though it seemed unlikely that he would abandon his athletic commitments for some time to-come. The man of action in competition with others was uppermost in his lifestyle, and it was to this somewhat unspiritual man that he gave most of his attention. Clearly, Transcendental Meditation was a discipline which young students often encountered and superficially endorsed, if only for appearance's sake. There was no real depth of commitment in them though, no real understanding of what it really implied. The urge of youth to action and rebellion against the social status quo, quite apart from the exigent demands of study and college obligations generally, was too strong to be eradicated or underestimated in the vast majority of cases. It was a phenomenon which had to be lived through before one was in a position to take a better, more objective look at spiritual values and, if one so desired, proceed to direct one's life along less physically active and possibly more passive lines, following in Andrew's own ideal footsteps. In the meantime, competitive sport would doubtless take the place of honour in the lives of people like Philip, who had no impending or imperative desire to 'go spiritual' when they were under pressure to compete on a variety of levels. Besides, people came in so many different shapes and sizes that what was good for one type of person could be bad for another. Spirituality was all right for some persons, but definitely not for everyone!
To be sure, there was undoubtedly an element of truth in that contention, albeit, Andrew had to admit, rather relatively. For it was of the utmost importance to mankind's future development that an increasing number of people turned spiritual and accordingly dedicated the greater part of their lives to contemplative concerns. It was necessary that predominantly active types should eventually be superseded by their predominantly passive counterparts, so that mankind would be morally qualified to enter the millennial Beyond at the culmination of human evolution, and thereupon become wholly divine - filled with the bliss and peace of pure spirit. Otherwise Heaven would remain no more than a pipe dream, a distant possibility never actually realized, except perhaps in the grave, and man would forever continue to be torn between the active and the passive, Hell and Heaven, in a dualistic twilight of Christian relativity. But that could not be! For man had evolved out of a predominantly dark state of pre-Christian hellish activity to the Christian compromise between the dark and the light, sensuality and spirituality, and he was now evolving beyond that towards a state of being which favoured the light, a state commensurate with greater physical passivity. History could not be refuted, since the trend of human evolution towards the enhanced spirituality of the Holy Ghost was made manifest through it and could be discerned more clearly in recent decades, in spite of all the existing horrors of modern life, including the threat of nuclear or biological obliteration. Even the tendency of modern architects to endow their buildings with more window space, to fashion office blocks or high-rise flats in such a way that glass or plastic predominated over concrete and steel, was a clear indication, so far as Andrew was concerned, of our growing allegiance to the spirit - as, of course, was the widespread and regular use of artificial lighting. Like it or not, the spread of urbanization was a blessing unprecedented in the entire history of Western man, speeding-up his evolution from a being torn, in the ego, between the sensual subconscious and the spiritual superconscious during virtually the whole of the Christian era, to one who, within the space of a mere century, had become biased on the side of the latter, freed, as never before, from the sensuous influence of nature, and enabled to direct his spiritual development along lines which, eventually, could only bring him to the consummation of his evolution in heavenly bliss!
Yes, a remarkable fact, but there it was! Our isolation from nature was a means to our spiritual salvation, and this salvation could and would be brought about, provided we survived the catastrophic consequences of future wars and continued to develop, according to the dictates of our urban environments, in an increasingly artificial direction. All credit to the tall buildings which were mostly fabricated from synthetics! Well did they reflect our ongoing allegiance to the superconscious and consequent break with a balanced dualism. The sooner those buildings which had more concrete than glass in them were superseded by buildings of a more spiritual order, the better! Away with all the old dualities as soon as it was convenient and proper to do away with them!
Let us have more spirit, in accordance with our yearning for eternity. Let us remember that life continues to evolve and that the world is slowly but surely becoming a better place. Let us not be deceived by the short-term horrors it besets us with into assuming the contrary. Our short-sightedness, in this respect, will not detract from the facts of evolution! Socialism and transcendentalism, suitably modified in a sort of Social Transcendental synthesis, will carry the world before them, no matter how much some people may persist in presuming otherwise! The only serious cause for regret, concerning this transitional stage of man's evolution, is the fact that these developments should still have such a deplorably long way to go before we arrived at our ultimate destination in heavenly peace, and thus entirely transcended the human condition!
To bring the average man up to a higher moral level, a level where he can share in the fruits of the spiritual life - what an immense task, and how long it will take to affect a genuine equalitarianism of the spirit! One shudders at the thought of how far evolution still has to go before inequalities cease to exist, and the vast majority of people share in a common aspiration towards spiritual fulfilment! Yes, one positively shudders at the immensity of the task ahead, the task of affecting an overall higher standard of life. Yet it is one which has got to be knuckled down to, no matter how difficult things may now seem. There is no alternative to going forwards, upwards, and inwards - absolutely none! We have no option but to persist in the equalitarian and co-operative policies which progress is demanding of us, for there is no other way to the post-human millennium. As the decades pass, we shall doubtless succeed in improving the quality of the race, so that an ever-growing number of people will become spiritually earnest, and thus given to devotions like Transcendental Meditation. But the difficulty of the task before us cannot be underestimated, if we are not to seriously delude ourselves regarding the entire process of human evolution. It is our duty to progress, and progress we shall, even if only by small steps, one after the other. As yet, we are still too close to the ego, that old dualistic balance, for comfort, and cannot afford to become complacent over the extent of evolution to-date. We may indeed have come a long way from the caveman, grovelling in the moral darkness of subservience to the subconscious, but we are by no means at our journey's end in unequivocal identification with the superconscious. On the contrary, we are only just beginning to recognize it for what it is - namely, the essence of salvation.
As usual, however, there are 'the quick' and 'the slow', the former spearheading transcendentalism's advance, the latter not having disentangled themselves from the old dualities to an extent which makes it possible for them to regard such dualities as phenomena out of which we are slowly evolving. No, 'the slow' are still at home with these dualities, still given to political confrontation, religious anthropomorphism, competitive/cooperative economics, sexual discrimination, noble and plebeian class divisions, distinctions of rich and poor, and so on, as though such dualities constituted the very essence of reality against which it was senseless to rebel. Well, 'the slow' might think so, but 'the quick' don't agree! They find such a viewpoint totally unacceptable, having gone well beyond it in their knowledge of and commitment to evolutionary progress. 'The quick', now as before, are in the vanguard of mankind's advance towards the post-human millennium, and while they may not be completely beyond dualism themselves, they are sufficiently biased on the side of the spirit to see through the illusion of regarding dualism as an end-in-itself, instead of merely a stage on the road to a higher end. Yes, they are sufficiently advanced along the road to salvation to see through this, the greatest of all contemporary illusions, and are consequently that much closer to ultimate truth!
But, unfortunately, 'the quick' still aren't in the majority - at least not everywhere. It is to be hoped, however, that one day they will be. For that is true progress, that is the task! In the meantime, we can only persevere with our efforts, not to mention enemies - as, indeed, Andrew was obliged to do during breakfast, while Mr Grace and Harding continued with a conversation centred around representational art, to the detriment of the transcendent. Oh, how he would have liked to interpose himself between them by pointing out the fallacies in their view of taking traditional representational art for the only legitimate art-form and of considering it in the interests of Western man's well-being that a return to such art should officially be made as soon as possible! How he would have liked to impress upon them the fact that such a reversion to form and substance in art would have constituted a regression on a par with reverting to gas lamps or candle light; that, contrary to their reactionary assumptions, it would have been diametrically opposed to his well-being; that, instead of constituting a moral example to society, such art would have set a thoroughly bad example, leading people to attach more importance to the concrete, the representational, the apparent, than was desirable, and so on - a whole host of valid objections to their crackbrained and thoroughly obsolete values! Yes, he most certainly would!
But partly out of consideration for Pauline, whom he genuinely liked, and partly in response to Harding's request for reserve, earlier that morning, Andrew refrained from interposing, restrained the impulse to speak out on behalf of the very tendencies in art, as in life, which these two reactionary bastards were attacking, whether directly, as in their opposition to abstraction, or indirectly, through their advocacy of more traditional approaches to art. Besides, had he done so, and thus given vent to the very genuine temptation to air his views in front of them, nothing more would have come of it than another nasty scene, like the one he had been obliged to endure in the lounge, when Henry Grace had lost what little precarious cool he ordinarily possessed. Needless to say, there wasn't much sense in that - not, anyway, if one had transcendental rather than dualistic or humanistic sympathies at stake! Better to keep one's views to oneself, under the circumstances. For there was scant hope of changing those of the opposition! Quite the contrary, one would simply be banging one's head against a dense wall of adamant imperviousness - the imperviousness germane to a different species of man.
Breakfast passed, then, without any recrudescence of the ideological tension which had sprung-up, the day before, between Mr Grace and Harding on the one side, and Andrew and Carol on the other; though, thanks in some measure to Philip's ingenuousness, a few comments were voiced which caused a certain disquiet to flourish in the minds of the opponents of artistic progress, and at no time more evidently so than when he referred to something Andrew had said about Christian transcendentalism on the day in question. But the writer judiciously refrained from expanding on it, and so enabled the traditionalists to continue their conversation on aesthetics with a modicum of equanimity.
As, however, for Pauline, no allusions were made to her sexual experiences of the night before ... other than in the way she occasionally regarded Andrew, as he sat seemingly engrossed in his breakfast, with a certain coy admiration born, no doubt, of her gratitude to him for having extended his appreciation of her poems beyond the purely theoretical level! Now she was no longer a virgin, it struck him that she might even refrain from writing poetry in future, and so give herself exclusively to literature instead. If so, he hoped, anyway, that he wouldn't be obliged to read it. For he had little taste for illusion, his only real ambition being to kill it off to the extent he could, and thereby encourage his readers away from the old dualistic respect for fictions, which had characterized the era of egocentric culture, towards a preoccupation with truth, more characteristic of the coming era of superconscious transcendentalism. Anything else would have been unthinkable! But until a majority of people had been raised-up, through the combined efforts of a modified socialism and transcendentalism, to a higher level of consciousness, the popular novel, in all its heathen permutations, vicious as well as inane, would doubtless continue to find a willing audience, mainly composed of people who could only stomach knowledge and truth in small doses or in a diluted guise, and whose respect for strength or beauty was still the overriding determinant in the composition of their tastes. Clearly, evolution still had a long way to go - particularly with regard to consumers of the popular novel. The post-human millennium couldn't be brought about overnight!
Having taken his leave of the table, Andrew contrived to avoid further contact with Pauline by electing to take a stroll round the spacious back garden, which particularly appealed to him at this juncture on account of the early-morning sunshine which lit it up in a dazzle of assorted colours - reds, greens, yellows, pinks, purples, blues, browns, and golds, each colour seemingly vying with the others to claim his attention and win his approval. At the far end of the garden, just a yard or two short of the wooden fence which divided Mr Grace's land from that of the nearest farmer, a large goldfish pond sparkled in the mid-morning sunlight, and it was towards this brilliant cynosure of optical allure that Andrew now directed his steps, crossing the closely-cropped lawn between the various flowerbeds and pressing on down the gently sloping incline towards the enticing sparkle of light beyond. What a relief it was to be free of the oppressive proximity of his ideological enemies! How he delighted in the sanctuary afforded him by this pond, isolated at a safe distance from the house and partly obscured, on one side, by a few small shrubs and trees, their overhanging branches sharply reflected in the clear water. And there, in the pond itself, how refreshing to behold the many goldfish swimming about after their individual fashions - some quickly, some slowly, others scarcely moving at all, but each one of them, no matter what their direction, completely isolated from human concerns and struggles, shut off from the conflicting realities of modern life in a world of aquatic seclusion.
Yes, it was almost possible to envy these tiny creatures their watery isolation, their complete indifference to politics, religion, economics, science - everything, in short, that mattered to man. There were indeed times when, had circumstances permitted, one would gladly have changed places with any of the more complacent-looking inhabitants of such a pond, and thus abandoned the human world altogether. Times, indeed, when to swim about like that, free from the arduous responsibilities of earning a living or the tedious necessity of defending a radical viewpoint from hidebound opponents, would have struck one as constituting a charmed existence, a privilege of the elect, a kind of luxurious abandon. But, of course, goldfish remained fish and human beings human, even if sometimes rather unwillingly so! Their worlds could never be exchanged. Willy-nilly, the burden of religion, politics, science, art, etc., would have to be borne for as long as one lived - borne in the face of every adversity or, for that matter, adversary.
It wasn't long, however, before Andrew was startled out of these sombre reflections by the sight of a woman's face reflected in the still water beside him and, turning round to behold it in the flesh, he recognized Carol Jackson staring down at him with a gentle smile on her lips. He almost lost his grip on the small rocks against which he was leaning and toppled backwards into the pond, so completely did her presence take him by surprise!
"I do hope I haven't disturbed you," she murmured, somewhat gratuitously in the circumstances.
"No, not at all!" he automatically responded, as one usually does in such a delicate situation. "I was simply admiring the goldfish."
She smiled her acknowledgement of this obvious confession and, with a "May I?", to which Andrew offered a prompt and affirmative response, sat down beside him on one of the larger and cleaner-looking rocks by the edge of the pond. After a brief inspection of its aquatic contents, she smiled anew and cast him a penetrative look from her dark-brown eyes - one specifically designed to cut through any pretence or reserve which might have come between them at this juncture. "I take it you had a pleasant time with Pauline Grace yesterday evening?" she at length commented.
A sudden uprush of embarrassment overpowered Andrew with these words. For the tone of Carol's voice, coupled to the knowing look in her lively eyes, suggested, all too clearly, that more was known of his nocturnal activities on the evening in question than he would have been prepared to admit. "Yes," he blushingly confessed. "Quite pleasant."
"Only 'quite'?" queried Carol with the air of a tease about her. "Were you worried that someone like her father would overhear you, then?"
Andrew's embarrassment took a sharp turn for the worse. He didn't know how to reply, not knowing exactly where he stood with her. But Carol came to his rescue.
"Or perhaps you were disappointed because she wasn't more responsive and didn't have much experience behind her?" Carol shamelessly conjectured.
Now it was completely out in the open. There could be no question of pretence here. "No, not really," he confessed, his blood seeming hotter than usual. And then, all of a sudden, as though the lid of his shame had just been removed and the pressure released from his embarrassing predicament, he burst into an impulsive giggle, which was followed, much to Carol's satisfaction, by a lengthy smile of cathartic relief. "How did you know?" he asked, as soon as it had run its pleasurable course.
"Simply by listening outside her bedroom door for a few minutes before retiring to my room," Carol revealed. "Not that either of you were making much noise about it! On the contrary, I had to strain my ears, since you seemed rather reserved in your pleasures."
"We had to be," Andrew admitted, automatically deferring to Carol's partial impression. "Otherwise the game would have been given away."
"As it was in any case - at least as far as I was concerned."
Andrew experienced a slight qualm at this point. "What about Robert?" he asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Carol replied. "I didn't mention it to him and he hasn't mentioned anything to me. So I can only presume he doesn't know." She smiled reassuringly and then added: "We slept in separate rooms, by the way."
"Is that so?" Andrew responded, not a little surprised at this turn of events. "Well, I sincerely hope I can trust you to keep a secret, Carol. I don't think Mr Grace would particularly approve of what I've been up to with his daughter, would he?"
"Most probably not; though I don't think you would particularly approve of what he's up to with Robert," the model averred.
Andrew felt somewhat puzzled and looked it. "How d'you mean?" he asked, surprised to find himself becoming slightly concerned on Harding's behalf.
Carol smiled vaguely and proceeded to cast a few tiny pebbles into the pond, momentarily disturbing the apparent equanimity of its tiny inhabitants. "Well, as yet, I've nothing definite to go on; though, from what I've learnt from an acquaintance of mine, it's somewhat doubtful that Henry Grace's motives for inviting Robert here are exclusively professional," she remarked. "In point of fact, I incline to believe such motives don't really enter into it at all."
The writer became even more puzzled. "I don't think I quite follow you," he not unreasonably confessed.
"You wouldn't happen to know a photographer by name of Donald Prescott, by any chance?"
He shook his head.
"Well, as you do know, I'm a model, and my profession often takes me to Prescott's house in Hampstead, where I pose for his camera," Carol resumed. "Now from what I gleaned from him, the last time I was there, Henry Grace is by no means as influential in the world of art or art criticism as Robert seems to imagine, since he's at least two decades out-of-date."
"I could have told you that!" Andrew retorted. "In fact, he's almost a century out-of-date, so far as I'm concerned."
Carol had to smile, in spite of the seriousness of the matter. "I'm glad you think so," she said. "However Prescott, who used to know Mr Grace personally, assured me that the critic wasn't the type of man to put himself out for anybody, to use what little influence he has specifically on anybody's professional behalf."
"You mean, Robert's being deceived by him?" Andrew conjectured.
"That seems the most logical inference," Carol agreed.
"But why? Why would he go to all the trouble to invite Robert here and play the charming host, if he wasn't intending to befriend him?" Andrew objected. "After all, they've talked of little else but art ever since we arrived!"
"As I well know," Carol admitted over a faint but earnest sigh. "Yet that strikes me as no more than a cover for his real motives, a trap to lure Robert into danger. If you want to know my honest opinion, I believe Henry Grace has taken a fancy to my boyfriend and hopes to seduce him."
Andrew could scarcely believe his ears. "You're kidding!" he ejaculated.
"Not a bit," Carol assured him, her face deadly serious. "I gleaned as much from what Prescott told me the other week, both from what was said and by the way he responded to some of my comments. He was harbouring a little secret, and I bet you anything it had to do with Mr Grace's sexuality - namely, the fact of his being bisexual."
"Bisexual?" Andrew repeated, still distinctly sceptical about the revelation Carol had opted to inflict upon him. "Maybe that explains the strange silence and withdrawn disposition of his wife over the weekend, her disinclination to enter into conversation with him in Robert's presence, much as though she knew full-well what was going on and what was expected of her in consequence. Maybe even a private grudge against him and jealousy that he should prefer someone else to her? After all, she didn't come with us on that cross-country stroll yesterday afternoon, did she?"
"Probably more because she wasn't invited to than from any overt grievance against her husband," Carol opined. "We were led to believe that she had to stay behind to look after the house and attend to any new guests who might arrive during our absence. But were there any?"
Andrew pondered, a moment, what was evidently a rhetorical question, and then said: "Not if you discount Philip's friend, Edwin."
"Quite! And one can hardly consider him a guest, much less a personal friend of Henry Grace!" declared Carol sternly. "No, as far as I'm concerned, that was just a ruse to keep her out of the way while her husband chatted-up my boyfriend to the extent he could. Besides, you were on the walk and he didn't talk very much to you, did he?"
"Perhaps that's just as well!" the writer ironically averred, showing signs of amusement. "It would also have detracted from my conversation with Pauline or even prevented it from taking place. Curious, now I come to think about it, how my preoccupation with her didn't appear to arouse any interest or concern on his part, much as though he had better things to think about than the safety of his daughter in the dubious company of a handsome male stranger."
"Evidently he had," Carol affirmed. "And primarily in terms of the success of his strategy to seduce Robert."
"But is he bisexual, too?"
"Not to my knowledge. At least, he has never made mention of a penchant for men to me, nor have I ever seen him in anything approximating to sexual contact with them during the six months of our intimacy. Of course, prior to then I'm not able to say. But from what he told me about his previous relationships, all of them with women, it would seem highly improbable that he has ever gone out of his way to establish bisexual relations with anyone. Quite the contrary, he strikes me as a born heterosexual."
"Well, if that's how it is - and I can well believe it in view of his overly realistic approach to painting - then we needn't fear for his safety or, rather, morals, need we?" Andrew deduced. "Henry Grace is simply wasting his time."
Carol firmly shook her head. "I rather doubt it," she retorted. "For Robert has so much confidence in Mr Grace's ability to influence his career for the better ... that he might well succumb to his sexual demands on the spur of the moment, if only to further his aims."
"You mean he'd allow Grace to sexually violate him on the assumption that such a procedure would be to his professional advantage?" Andrew blurted out, quite beside himself with astonishment.
"Shush, keep your voice down!" Carol hissed, pressing the proverbial forefinger against her lips.
They cast an apprehensive glance around the garden, but there was nobody to be seen. The house stood bathed in sunlight some eighty-odd yards away, its windows blank. Only the harmless sounds of sparrows and thrushes could be heard.
"But that's preposterous!" Andrew exclaimed with renewed confidence. "Who-on-earth would allow another man to violate him for the sake of his career?"
"Particularly when, unbeknownst to himself, he wouldn't stand to gain anything much by it," Carol confirmed. "But you don't know Robert Harding. At least you wouldn't know the extent of his ambitions to become universally recognized as a great painter."
"I've an inkling of it!" Andrew admitted, simultaneously recalling the experience of Harding's concern over his freedom of speech earlier that morning. If that was part of the painter's ambition to gain universal recognition, then he was certainly doing everything he could to stay in Henry Grace's good books. No doubt, he could be induced to do a bit more, if circumstances required! But how absurd that his ambitions should be so important to him that he could be depended upon to lean over backwards to achieve them - and evidently in more than a merely metaphorical sense.
"An inkling is all very well," Carol sharply rejoined, succumbing to a degree of self-pity. "But I have to live with a great deal more than that, including the fact of his desire to become the leading English portrait-painter of his day."
Andrew felt obliged to laugh, and did so with a sarcastic relish quite untypical of him. Really, it was too funny for words! How could Harding become the foremost anything? Wasn't it simply his intention to become the most reactionary painter of his day, to make war on all forms of modernity, not excepting the contemporary treatment of portraiture? But Carol wasn't particularly amused by Andrew's flippant response. It was all right for him to laugh, he didn't have to live with the guy. She did, though not legally. Indeed, she could have broken with Harding that very day, had she really wanted to. But, deep down, she was still rather fond of him, unwilling, at present, to be the source of a break-up. Besides, if the truth were known, she would have to admit that he was the best lover she had ever had - far more adventurous, vigorous, and responsive than any of the previous men in her life. And one who took longer with his pleasures, moreover. It wouldn't have been to her sexual advantage to risk having to settle for anything less, least of all over such a relatively trifling issue as his professional ambitions!
"By the way, I ought to tell you that I happened to overhear part of a conversation between Robert and Mr Grace whilst he was working on the latter's portrait one day," Andrew revealed, once he had cooled down again. "You weren't there, but I could see that your boyfriend was doing his level best to make as good an impression on his sitter as possible, straining every damn nerve and muscle on his face to make it appear as though he were deeply engrossed in concentration, and agreeing with just about everything the latter said. It didn't take long before my suspicions were confirmed concerning his reactionary attitude towards modern art, his dislike of everything abstract."
"Yes, that must have been on one of the days I was at Prescott's," Carol commented. "But the irony of it all is that, if what I assume about Mr Grace is true, Robert needn't have gone to such trouble to make a good impression, since that old faggot only commissioned his portrait because he'd already taken a fancy to him and thereby hoped to seduce him. Robert's concern with being on his best behaviour was accordingly quite superfluous."
"And probably still is," Andrew conjectured, smiling.
"Yes, I incline to think so," Carol agreed. "Especially when I recall the ease with which Mr Grace dismissed Robert's concern over your differences of opinion, earlier in the day, while the three of us were sitting outside on those old back-garden seats yesterday evening."
Andrew automatically cast a suspicious glance in the direction of the seats in question, as though to assure himself that they were now empty. "Oh, was Robert somewhat upset then?" he asked.
"You bet he was!" Carol exclaimed. "And quite apologetic, to boot. But he needn't have been, since Henry Grace didn't harbour any grievances against him as a result of your philosophical outspokenness. On the contrary, he was only too keen to reassure us - and Robert in particular - that he could still be a charming host."
"I bet the old sod was!" Andrew cried, unable, once again, to prevent a gasp of amusement escaping from between his parted lips. "But I doubt if he really felt as charming as he made himself out to be, especially where I was concerned."
"Indeed not!" Carol confirmed, smiling ironically. "Although I did my best to stand-up for you, in spite of opposition from my boyfriend. Unlike him, however, I saw no reason why not to, since I agree with your theories concerning the difference between Christians and transcendentalists. It stands to reason that a dualist is less spiritually evolved. But Mr Grace didn't see it like that, being too set in his bourgeois ways and too vain, moreover, to concede one the truth of the matter. For all we know, he might have had a guilty conscience about his intention to seduce Robert and couldn't restrain the impulse to defend him against you, when you spoke of the moral superiority of
transcendentalists yesterday afternoon. But, whatever the case, he was certainly not put off Robert by my subsequent defence of your views. Quite the contrary, he began to speak of their temperamental compatibility and reaffirmed his liking for him - a liking which seemed to corroborate all my suspicions regarding his real motives for having invited Robert all the way up here in the first place. Yet when he went on to speak of their being 'two of a kind', brothers in the cause of 'liberal decency and tradition', I nearly burst out laughing, so ironic did it sound to me! Doubtless the word 'kind' possessed more significance for Henry Grace than ever it did for his naive dupe!"
"So it would seem," Andrew murmured through an accompanying snigger. "Yet brothers in the cause of liberal, or representational, tradition in the arts they most certainly are, as I was made more than adequately aware by my eavesdropping on the other side of Robert's fence that day. Naturally, I had suspected he was in revolt against all forms of abstraction in art, shortly after we first became acquainted. But it wasn't until I heard the pair of them together that my suspicions were confirmed. Instead of moving with the times and furthering the admirable cause of transcendental abstraction, these two bastards are determined to reverse things by reaffirming the primacy, as they see it, of form and substance, thereby returning art to an outmoded sensual/spiritual dualism compatible with bourgeois ethics. I don't know exactly how you feel about this, Carol, but I can tell you I'm very much against it! If they think that by advocating a more representational approach to art they'll be affecting its salvation, then they're sadly mistaken! They would simply be resurrecting the past, and that isn't much good to the present, still less the future. For figurative art has had its day, and nothing they could do now would really alter matters to any appreciable extent. At worst, I expect they'd merely succeed in causing a certain amount of mental confusion among the less-integrated devotees of modern art, affecting a vague nostalgia for dualistic criteria among the bourgeoisie, and slightly undermining the progress of transcendentalism in art, including various types of light art, in the process. But nothing significant, nothing guaranteed to cause a major regression in our tastes. Fortunately for all true lovers of cultural progress, theirs is a lost cause, so we needn't become unduly concerned about it. However, the fact they do think in terms of a return to outmoded values in art makes them extremely disagreeable to me - enemies, if you like, whom it's my duty to denigrate. It isn't for me to encourage them in their anachronistic intentions."
Carol appeared momentarily grieved, primarily because her lover was being attacked by Andrew and made to appear a fool, but also because, deep down, she sympathized with the cause of modern art, at least in its more progressive manifestations, and was rather ashamed of the fact that Robert didn't. And then what Prescott had said to her about the consequences of his associating with Mr Grace more or less corresponded, in essence if not exactly in detail, to the sentiments expressed by Andrew, and presented her with additional reasons for believing that Harding's was a lost cause. Yes, however much she remained loyal to her lover as a person, she couldn't pretend that his professional ambitions were worthy of respect. Accordingly, she had no option but to side with the writer. "It would serve him right," she remarked eventually, "if Mr Grace manages to seduce him on the pretext of furthering his career, without actually doing so! It might teach him a valuable lesson."
"True, though I doubt if it would prevent him from continuing with his reactionary creative policies," Andrew solemnly opined. "He seems to be perfectly at one with them."
"Yes, that has to be admitted," Carol agreed. "A born reactionary."
However, the sight of Mrs Grace emerging from the house to put some washing out decided Carol against continuing their conversation and, with a parting smile, she left the writer to his reflections, both private and public. He was in no hurry to return to the others himself, not even for Pauline's sake.