“Shall I shut the door, Mother?”
With a little lump in his throat John closed the door.
The London which Derek had said should be blown up was at its maximum of life those May days. Even on this outer rampart of Hampstead, people, engines, horses, all had a touch of the spring fever; indeed, especially on this rampart of Hampstead was there increase of the effort to believe that nature was not dead and embalmed in books. The poets, painters, talkers who lived up there were at each other all the time in their great game of make-believe. How could it be otherwise, when there was veritably blossom on the trees and the chimneys were ceasing to smoke? How otherwise, when the sun actually shone on the ponds? But the four young people (for Alan joined in—hypnotized by Sheila) did not stay in Hampstead. Chiefly on top of tram and ’bus they roamed the wilderness. Bethnal Green and Leytonstone, Kensington and Lambeth, St. James’s and Soho, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, West Ham, and Piccadilly, they traversed the whole ant-heap at its most ebullient moment. They knew their Whitman and their Dostoievsky sufficiently to be aware that they ought to love and delight in everything—in the gentleman walking down Piccadilly with a flower in his buttonhole, and in the lady sewing that buttonhole in Bethnal Green; in the orator bawling himself hoarse close to the Marble Arch, the coster loading his barrow in Covent Garden; and in Uncle John Freeland rejecting petitions in Whitehall. All these things, of course, together with the long lines of little gray houses in Camden Town, long lines of carts with bobtail horses rattling over Blackfriars’ Bridge, long smells drifting behind taxicabs—all these things were as delightful and as stimulating to the soul as the clouds that trailed the heavens, the fronds of the lilac, and Leonardo’s Cartoon in the Diploma Gallery. All were equal manifestations of that energy in flower known as ‘Life.’ They knew that everything they saw and felt and smelled ought equally to make them long to catch creatures to their hearts and cry: Hosanna! And Nedda and Alan, bred in Hampstead, even knew that to admit that these things did not all move them in the same way would be regarded as a sign of anaemia. Nevertheless—most queerly—these four young people confessed to each other all sorts of sensations besides that ‘Hosanna’ one. They even confessed to rage and pity and disgust one moment, and to joy and dreams the next, and they differed greatly as to what excited which. It was truly odd! The only thing on which they did seem to agree was that they were having ‘a thundering good time.’ A sort of sense of “Blow everything!” was in their wings, and this was due not to the fact that they were thinking of and loving and admiring the little gray streets and the gentleman in Piccadilly—as,