He was thankful when eight o’clock struck and he could get up. He was pale and weary. But when he had bathed, dressed, and had breakfast, he felt himself joined up again with the world at large; and his pain was a little easier to bear. He did not feel like going to lectures that morning, but went instead to the Army and Navy Stores to buy Mildred a wedding-present. After much wavering he settled on a dressing-bag. It cost twenty pounds, which was much more than he could afford, but it was showy and vulgar: he knew she would be aware exactly how much it cost; he got a melancholy satisfaction in choosing a gift which would give her pleasure and at the same time indicate for himself the contempt he had for her.
Philip had looked forward with apprehension to the day on which Mildred was to be married; he was expecting an intolerable anguish; and it was with relief that he got a letter from Hayward on Saturday morning to say that he was coming up early on that very day and would fetch Philip to help him to find rooms. Philip, anxious to be distracted, looked up a time-table and discovered the only train Hayward was likely to come by; he went to meet him, and the reunion of the friends was enthusiastic. They left the luggage at the station, and set off gaily. Hayward characteristically proposed that first of all they should go for an hour to the National Gallery; he had not seen pictures for some time, and he stated that it needed a glimpse to set him in tune with life. Philip for months had had no one with whom he could talk of art and books. Since the Paris days Hayward had immersed himself in the modern French versifiers, and, such a plethora of poets is there in France, he had several new geniuses to tell Philip about. They walked through the gallery pointing out to one another their favourite pictures; one subject led to another; they talked excitedly. The sun was shining and the air was warm.
‘Let’s go and sit in the Park,’ said Hayward. ‘We’ll look for rooms after luncheon.’
The spring was pleasant there. It was a day upon which one felt it good merely to live. The young green of the trees was exquisite against the sky; and the sky, pale and blue, was dappled with little white clouds. At the end of the ornamental water was the gray mass of the Horse Guards. The ordered elegance of the scene had the charm of an eighteenth-century picture. It reminded you not of Watteau, whose landscapes are so idyllic that they recall only the woodland glens seen in dreams, but of the more prosaic Jean-Baptiste Pater. Philip’s heart was filled with lightness. He realised, what he had only read before, that art (for there was art in the manner in which he looked upon nature) might liberate the soul from pain.
They went to an Italian restaurant for luncheon and ordered themselves a fiaschetto of Chianti. Lingering over the meal they talked on. They reminded one another of the people they had known at Heidelberg, they spoke of Philip’s friends in Paris, they talked of books, pictures, morals, life; and suddenly Philip heard a clock strike three. He remembered that by this time Mildred was married. He felt a sort of stitch in his heart, and for a minute or two he could not hear what Hayward was saying. But he filled his glass with Chianti. He was unaccustomed to alcohol and it had gone to his head. For the time at all events he was free from care. His quick brain had lain idle for so many months that he was intoxicated now with conversation. He was thankful to have someone to talk to who would interest himself in the things that interested him.
‘I say don’t let’s waste this beautiful day in looking for rooms. I’ll put you up tonight. You can look for rooms tomorrow or Monday.’
‘All right. What shall we do?’ answered Hayward.
‘Let’s get on a penny steamboat and go down to Greenwich.’
The idea appealed to Hayward, and they jumped into a cab which took them to Westminster Bridge. They got on the steamboat just as she was starting. Presently Philip, a smile on his lips, spoke.
‘I remember when first I went to Paris, Clutton, I think it was, gave a long discourse on the subject that beauty is put into things by painters and poets. They create beauty. In themselves there is nothing to choose between the Campanile of Giotto and a factory chimney. And then beautiful things grow rich with the emotion that they have aroused in succeeding generations. That is why old things are more beautiful than modern. The Ode on a Grecian Urn is more lovely now than when it was written, because for a hundred years lovers have read it and the sick at heart taken comfort in its lines.’
Philip left Hayward to infer what in the passing scene had suggested these words to him, and it was a delight to know that he could safely leave the inference. It was in sudden reaction from the life he had been leading for so long that he was now deeply affected. The delicate iridescence of the London air gave the softness of a pastel to the gray stone of the buildings; and in the wharfs and storehouses there was the severity of grace of a Japanese print. They went further down; and the splendid channel, a symbol of the great empire, broadened, and it was crowded with traffic; Philip thought of the painters and the poets who had made all these things so beautiful, and his heart was filled with gratitude. They came to the Pool of London, and who can describe its majesty? The imagination thrills, and Heaven knows what figures people still its broad stream, Doctor Johnson with Boswell by his side, an old Pepys going on board a man-o’-war: the pageant of English history, and romance, and high adventure. Philip turned to Hayward with shining eyes.
‘Dear Charles Dickens,’ he murmured, smiling a little at his own emotion.
‘Aren’t you rather sorry you chucked painting?’ asked Hayward.
‘I suppose you like doctoring?’
‘No, I hate it, but there was nothing else to do. The drudgery of the first two years is awful, and unfortunately I haven’t got the scientific temperament.’
‘Well, you can’t go on changing professions.’
‘Oh, no. I’m going to stick to this. I think I shall like it better when I get into the wards. I have an idea that I’m more interested in people than in anything else in the world. And as far as I can see, it’s the only profession in which you have your freedom. You carry your knowledge in your head; with a box of instruments and a few drugs you can make your living anywhere.’
‘Aren’t you going to take a practice then?’
‘Not for a good long time at any rate,’ Philip answered. ‘As soon as I’ve got through my hospital appointments I shall get a ship; I want to go to the East—the Malay Archipelago, Siam, China, and all that sort of thing—and then I shall take odd jobs. Something always comes along, cholera duty in India and things like that. I want to go from place to place. I want to see the world. The only way a poor man can do that is by going in for the medical.’
They came to Greenwich then. The noble building of Inigo Jones faced the river grandly.
‘I say, look, that must be the place where Poor Jack dived into the mud for pennies,’ said Philip.
They wandered in the park. Ragged children were playing in it, and it was noisy with their cries: here and there old seamen were basking in the sun. There was an air of a hundred years ago.
‘It seems a pity you wasted two years in Paris,’ said Hayward.
‘Waste? Look at the movement of that child, look at the pattern which the sun makes on the ground, shining through the trees, look at that sky—why, I should never have seen that sky if I hadn’t been to Paris.’
Hayward thought that Philip choked a sob, and he looked at him with astonishment.
‘What’s the matter with you?’
‘Nothing. I’m sorry to be so damned emotional, but for six months I’ve been starved for beauty.’
‘You used to be so matter of fact. It’s very interesting to hear you say that.’
‘Damn it all, I don’t want to be interesting,’ laughed Philip. ‘Let’s go and have a stodgy tea.’