[To HAROLD CHILD]
He sat in front of his writing-table with a blank sheet of paper in front of him—a creamy, virginal sheet, inviting and elusive. “A few black smudges and the whole of life might be there,” he thought, “concentrated but limited with four corners and no boundaries.” He thought of the untouched whiteness of the paper violated by a masterpiece—or a love letter. He didn’t want to think of love letters. He had written such hundreds, and for four years now they had all been to the same person. His fidelity had been due, he supposed, to the fact that to him she was almost more an idea than an individual, a legend that he had created. She was his faith, his religion, his shrine. She was on a pedestal from which she shed a pale gold light—silvery gold—of serenity won through suffering. He saw her very seldom, but when he was with her she reminded him of a catch in the voice. It was as if her life had reached breaking point and for one moment she would give him as divine gift a little poignant stumble before she regained the sure foothold of her calm courage. It was these precious moments that gave a burning spirit to his image of her. The legend had a soul.
But to-day he didn’t want to think of her. He wanted to work. The word made him smile a little. There had been a time when ideas had seized hold of him and driven him recklessly wherever they wanted him to go. Then he had made form his fetish and it had become his prison. Now he had lost both his abandon and his rigidity and with each, a certain driving force had been taken away from him. He would sit in front of his table and remember that all the masterpieces of the world are contained in the alphabet and it would prevent him from writing. And then he would think of her and that would mean writing to her or writing for her. In a sense, everything he wrote was “To her.” He remembered the first time that he had dared to write her a letter without a beginning. His pen had trembled in his hand. And yet it is the way all borderland letters begin, whether the frontier is between acquaintanceship and friendship, or between friendship and love. For there are moments in life when if you can’t say “My own Blessed,” you can say nothing—omission is the substitute for the absolute. Only with her, formality was a flavouring of intimacy, a curious fragrance like a faint clinging of unseen pot-pourri. And so, for a long time after he had sent her his first endless, beginningless out-pouring, her letters had begun, “Dear Mr. ——” and had ended very tidily, with a signature at the bottom of a page.
He had dedicated his first novel to her,—“To Mrs. ——” The dedication had pleased him. It was so immensely full of reserve and respect and the possibility of other things. A little, locked box of a dedication. It had pleased her, too. “It is a lovely dedication,” she had said with that smile she had, which was like a peeping glimmer of sunshine on a grey day.