Nan came down in July to stay with them. While she was there, Barry Briscoe, who was helping with a W.E.A. summer school at Haslemere, would come over on Sundays and spend the day with them. Not even the rains of July 1920 made Barry weary or depressed. His eyes were bright behind his glasses; his hands were usually full of papers, committee reports, agenda, and the other foods he fed on, unsatiated and unabashed. Barry was splendid. What ardour, what enthusiasm, burning like beacons in a wrecked world! So wrecked a world that all but the very best and the very worst had given it up as a bad job; the best because they hoped on, hoped ever, the worst because of the pickings that fall to such as they out of the collapsing ruins. But Barry, from the very heart of the ruin, would cry “Here is what we must do,” and his eyes would gleam with faith and resolution, and he would form a committee and act. And when he saw how the committee failed, as committees will, and how little good it all was, he would laugh ruefully and try something else. Barry, as he would tell you frankly—if you enquired, not otherwise,—believed in God. He was the son of a famous Quaker philanthropist, and had been brought up to see good works done and even garden cities built. I am aware that this must prejudice many people against Barry; and indeed many people were annoyed by certain aspects of him. But, as he was intellectually brilliant and personally attractive, these people were as a rule ready to overlook what they called the Quaker oats. Nan, who overlooked nothing, was frankly at war with him on some points, and he with her. Nan, cynical, clear-eyed, selfish and blase, cared nothing for the salvaging of what remained of the world out of the wreck, nothing for the I.L.P., less than nothing for garden cities, philanthropy, the W.E.A., and God. And committees she detested. Take them all away, and there remained Barry Briscoe, and for him she did not care nothing.
It was the oddest friendship, thought Neville, observing how, when Barry was there, all Nan’s perversities and moods fell away, leaving her as agreeable as he. Her keen and ironic intelligence met his, and they so understood each other that they finished each other’s sentences, and others present could only with difficulty keep up with them. Neville believed them to be in love, but did not know whether they had ever informed one another of the fact. They might still be pretending to one another that their friendship was merely one of those affectionate intellectual intimacies of which some of us have so many and which are so often misunderstood. Or they might not. It was entirely their business, either way.
Barry was a chatterbox. He lay on the lawn and rooted up daisies and made them into ridiculous chains, and talked and talked and talked. Rodney and Neville and Nan talked too, and Kay would lunge in with the crude and charming dogmatics of his years. But Gerda, chewing a blade of grass, lay idle and withdrawn, her fair brows unpuckered by the afternoon sun (because it was July, 1920), her blue eyes on Barry, who was so different; or else she would be withdrawn but not idle, for she would be drawing houses tumbling down, or men on stilts, fantastic and proud, or goblins, or geese running with outstretched necks round a green. Or she would be writing something like this: