* * * * *
One miraculous morning in late May, not so very many years ago, when the parrot-tulips in my garden were expanding themselves wantonly to the sun, and the lilac and laburnum which I caught, as I sat at my table, with the tail of one eye, and the pink may which I caught with the tail of the other, bloomed in splendid arrogance, my quiet outlook on greenery and colour was obscured by a human form. I may mention that my study-table is placed in the bay of a window, on the ground floor. It is a French window, opening on a terrace. Beyond the parapet of the terrace, the garden, with its apple and walnut trees, its beeches, its lawn, its beds of tulips, its lilac and laburnum and may and all sorts of other pleasant things, slopes lazily upwards to a horizon of iron railings separating the garden from a meadow where now and then a cow, when she desires to be peculiarly agreeable to the sight, poses herself in silhouette against the sky. I like to gaze on that adventitious cow. Her ruminatory attitude falls in with mine. . . . But I digress. . . .
I glanced up at the obscuring human form and recognized my wife. She looked, I must confess, remarkably pretty, with her fair hair blond comme les bles, and her mocking cornflower blue eyes, and her mutinous mouth, which has never yet (after all these years) assumed a responsible parent’s austerity. She wore a fresh white dress with coquettish bits of blue about the bodice. In her hand she grasped a dilapidated newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which looked as if she had been to bed in it.
“Am I disturbing you, Hilary?”
She was. She knew she was. But she looked so charming, a petal of spring, a quick incarnation of pink may and forget-me-not and laburnum, that I put down my pen and I smiled.
“You are, my dear,” said I, “but it doesn’t matter.”
“What are you doing?” She remained on the threshold.
“I am writing my presidential address,” said I, “for the Grand Meeting, next month, of the Hafiz Society.”
“I wonder,” said Barbara, “why Hafiz always makes me think of sherbet.”
I remonstrated, waving a dismissing hand.
“If that’s all you’ve got to say—”
“But it isn’t.”
She crossed the threshold, stepped in, swished round the end of my long oak table and took possession of my library. I wheeled round politely in my chair.
“Then, what is it?” I asked.
“Have you read the paper this morning?”
“I’ve glanced through the Times,” said I.
She patted her handful of bedclothing and let fall a blanket and a bed-spread or two—("Look at my beautifully, orderly folded Times,” said I, with an indicatory gesture) She looked and sniffed—and shed Vallombrosa leaves of the Daily Telegraph about the library until she had discovered the page for which she was searching. Then she held a mangled sheet before my eyes.