TWO PARIS EPISODES
[To ANTHONY ASQUITH]
I: THE STORY OF A COAT
“Le Printemps a brule cette nuit.” The news greeted me when I was called. It had no special significance, but spread through my semi-consciousness into meaningless patterns. Then I woke up. “Comme c’est terrible,” I said, “quelle chance que ca s’est fait la nuit!” I saw visions of leaping flames and angry reds reflected in the sky.
Then I remembered. It was at the Printemps that I had chosen my divine coat. They had promised faithfully to send it me to-day. The loveliest coat in the world—“fumee de Londres,” the salesman had called it, and in fact, it was the colour of the purple-grey smoke that ascends in solid spirals from factory chimneys. There were stripes too of silvery grey chenil which made a play-ground for lights and shadows. In shape it was like an old print of a coachman driving a four-in-hand, long with a flapping cape, and the lining was the colour of the sky when the sun has set.
I saw my coat giving new life to the dying flames. Tongues of fire were darting down the lines of silvery grey chenil, greedily eating up the smoky back-ground. Finally, a mass of ashes—purple-grey like their victim—was carried by the wind into the unknown. All day long my coat became more and more beautiful. The texture was solid smoke and the stripes were shafts of moonlight. How it shimmered through the mirage of my regrets.
When I got home that afternoon I found a cardboard box. The inspector of the Printemps, knowing that I was leaving for England, had brought me a coat from the reserve stock which was not kept in the shop. Infinitely touched, my heart overflowing with gratitude, I wrote a love letter to the Printemps.
Then I looked at my coat. The silvery stripes turned out to be black and white, giving a grey effect. The texture of the back-ground was not purple smoke, but rather scratchy wool. Evidently it was no longer the coat of my sad dreams. In becoming once more “la creation” of the Printemps it had ceased to be the creation of my imagination. Resurrection is a dangerous thing.
My coat which was once a legend is a reality again. It has travelled from fairy-land to life. Now it is a symbol. Isn’t this the story of the Life of Christ?
All my life I have loved balloons—all balloons—the heavy English sort, immense and round, that have to be pushed about, and the gay, light, gas-filled French ones that soar into the air the moment you let go of them. How well I remember when I was little, the colossal effort of blowing up the dark red, floppy India rubber until it got brighter and brighter and more and more transparent, though it always stayed opaque enough to hold the promise of still greater bigness. And then the crucial moment when ambition demanded an extra puff and a catastrophe became ever more imminent.