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Aldous Huxley

From 'Told in Gath'

"Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm" - St Bumpus

It was to be a long weekend, thought Giles Pentateuch apprehensively, as the menial staggered up the turret stairs with his luggage - staggered all the more consciously for the knowledge that he was under observation, just as, back in Lexham Gardens, his own tyrannical Amy would snort and groan outside the door to show how steep the backstairs were, before entering with his simple vegetarian breakfast of stinkwort and boiled pond weed. A long weekend; but a weekend at Groyne! And he realized, with his instinct for merciless analysis that amounted almost to torture, that in spite, yes, above all, in spite of the apprehension, because of it even, he would enjoy all the more saying afterwards, to his friend Luke Snarthes perhaps, or to little Reggie Ringworm, 'Yes, I was at Groyne last weekend,' or 'Yes, I was there when the whole thing started, down at Groyne.'

The menial had paused and was regarding him. To tip or not to tip? How many times had he not been paralysed by that problem? To tip was to give in, yes, selfishly to give in to his hatred of human contacts, to contribute half a crown as hush money, to obtain 'protection', protection from other people, so that for a little he could go on with the luxury of being Giles Pentateuch, 'scatologist and eschatologist', as he dubbed himself. Whereas not to tip ...

For a moment he hesitated. What would Luke Snarthes have done? Stayed at home, with that splayed ascetic face of his, or consulted his guru, Chandra Nandra? No - no tip! The menial slunk away. He looked round the room. It was comfortable, he had to admit; a few small Longhis round the walls, a Lupanar by Guido Guidi, and over the bed an outsize Stuprum Sabinarum, by Rubens - civilized people, his hosts, evidently.

He glanced at the books on the little table - the Odes of Horace, Rome, 23 BC, apparently a first edition, the Elegancies of Meursius (Rochester's copy), The Piccadilly Ambulator, The Sufferings of Saint Rose of Lima, Nostradamus (the Lérins Press), Swedenborg, The Old Man's Gita. 'And cultivated,' he murmured, 'too.' The bathroom, with its sunlamp and Plombières apparatus, was such as might be found in any sensible therapeutic home. He went down to tea considerably refreshed by his lavage.

The butler announced that Lady Rhomboid was 'serving' on the small west lawn, and he made his way over the secular turf with genuine pleasure. For Minnie Rhomboid was a remarkable woman.

'How splendid of you to come,' she croaked, for she had lost her voice in the old suffragette days. 'You know my daughter, Ursula Groyne.'

'Only too well,' laughed Giles, for they had been what his set at Balliol used to call 'lovers'.

'And Mrs Amp, of course?'

'Of course!'

'And Mary Pippin?'

'Decidedly,' he grimaced.

'And the men,' she went on, 'Giles Pentateuch - this is Luke Snarthes and Reggie Ringworm and Mr Encolpius and Roland Narthex. Pentateuch writes - let me see? - like a boot, isn't it?' (Her voice was a husky roar.) 'Yes, a boot with a mission! Oh, but I forgot' - and she laughed delightedly - 'you're all writers!'

'Encantado, I'm sure!' responded Giles. 'But we've all met before. I see you have the whole Almanach de Golgotha in fact,' he added.

Mary Pippin, whose arm had been eaten away by termites in Tehuantepec, was pouring out with her free hand. 'Orange Pekoe or Chandu, Giles?' she burbled in her delicious little voice. 'Like a carrier pigeon's,' he thought.

'Chandu, please.' And she filled him a pipe of the consoling poppy, so that in a short while he was smoking away like all the others.

'Yes, yes,' continued Mr Encolpius, in his oily voice which rose and fell beneath the gently moving tip of his nose, 'Man axolotl here below but I ask very little. Some fragments of Pamphylides, a Choctaw blood-mask, the prose of Scaliger the Elder, a painting by Fuseli, an occasional visit to the all-in wrestling, or to my meretrix; a cook who can produce a passable 'poulet à la Khmer', a Pong vase. Simple tastes, you will agree, and it is my simple habit to indulge them!'

Giles regarded him with fascination. That nose, it was, yes, it was definitely a proboscis ...

'But how can you, how can you?' It was Ursula Groyne. 'How can you when there are two million unemployed, when Russia has reintroduced anti-abortionary legislation, when Iceland has banned Time and Tide, when the Sedition Bill hangs over us all like a rubber truncheon?'

Mary Pippin cooed delightedly; this was intellectual life with a vengeance - definately haybrow - only it was so difficult to know who was right. Giles, at that moment, found her infinitely desirable.

Cyril Connolly




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