And The Towers is vividly described for me by the single fact that I could not “nest” there.
I took several days to discover this, but the first impression of impermanence was truer than I knew. The feathers of the mind refused here to lie one way. They ruffled, pointed, and grew wild.
Luxurious furniture does not mean comfort; I might as well have tried to settle down in the sofa and armchair department of a big shop. My bedroom was easily managed; it was the private workroom, prepared especially for my reception, that made me feel alien and outcast.
Externally, it was all one could desire: an antechamber to the great library, with not one, but two generous oak tables, to say nothing of smaller ones against the walls with capacious drawers.
There were reading desks, mechanical devices for holding books, perfect light, quiet as in a church, and no approach but across the huge adjoining room. Yet it did not invite.
“I hope you’ll be able to work here,” said my little hostess the next morning, as she took me in—her only visit to it while I stayed in the house—and showed me the ten-volume Catalogue.
“It’s absolutely quiet and no one will disturb you.”
“If you can’t, Bill, you’re not much good,” laughed Frances, who was on her arm. “Even I could write in a study like this!”
I glanced with pleasure at the ample tables, the sheets of thick blotting paper, the rulers, sealing wax, paper knives, and all the other immaculate paraphernalia. “It’s perfect,” I answered with a secret thrill, yet feeling a little foolish. This was for Gibbon or Carlyle, rather than for my potboiling insignificancies. “If I can’t write masterpieces here, it’s certainly not your fault,” and I turned with gratitude to Mrs. Franklyn. She was looking straight at me, and there was a question in her small pale eyes I did not understand. Was she noting the effect upon me, I wondered?
“You’ll write here—perhaps a story about the house,” she said, “Thompson will bring you anything you want; you only have to ring.” She pointed to the electric bell on the central table, the wire running neatly down the leg. “No one has ever worked here before, and the library has been hardly used since it was put in. So there’s no previous atmosphere to affect your imagination—er—adversely.”
We laughed. “Bill isn’t that sort,” said my sister; while I wished they would go out and leave me to arrange my little nest and set to work.
I thought, of course, it was the huge listening library that made me feel so inconsiderable—the fifteen thousand silent, staring books, the solemn aisles, the deep, eloquent shelves. But when the women had gone and I was alone, the beginning of the truth crept over me, and I felt that first hint of disconsolateness which later became an imperative No. The mind shut down, images ceased to rise and flow. I read, made copious notes, but I wrote no single line at The Towers.