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The Warp

Nell is back

Nell is back. And I’m in Herefordshire. It’s December. I hear her voice over the telephone; ‘Hello, love, I seem to be stranded somewhere in the middle of the country. Can you come and pick me up at a place called England’s Gate?’

Lettice; ‘You can’t darling, she must be wrong, there’s only an open heath there. She mustn’t stand there or anything might happen.’

Jeremy; ‘My mother is worried about you.’

Nell; ‘Tell her not to. I’ll wait in the pub.’

Lettice; ‘But there isn’t a pub. You’d far better forget all about her and take your sister Juliet.’

Jeremy; ‘But I can’t leave her stranded in the middle of the country!’

I found Nell sitting in a sportscar with a good looking man beside her and, having extracted her from the protective arm that he had placed round her shoulder, I drove her on to a dance.

Here comes Simon Romilly, lurching up to us, standing with his head cocked on one side, saying; ‘What an attractive girl you have there, Jeremy. I was a medical student, I suppose that’s why I always seem to feel that I’m mentally undressing people. And this one, I would say, would be well worth while.’

Nell said; ‘Yes, I feel that too. But, surely, it’s a waste of time just only mentally undressing people?’

‘When I was a medical student,’ said Simon, ‘we all used to queue up to choose the bodies we were going to dissect. They were the bodies of people who had died, and one day there was an exceptionally beautiful girl, so I put my name down for her. I went out to have a drink, and when I got back I found that someone else had taken the leg and head off the body, and so I told him to give them back. But he refused to give them to me, then he firmly put his hands round the rest of the body. So I seized the other end of the young woman and pulled, and he pulled, and luckily I was the one who got the body because his hands slipped on the one leg that was still on it, and I marched off with her then and there to the streets and home by tube, with the body tucked under my arm.’

‘What was she wearing?’ asked Nell.

‘Very stylishly dressed,’ said Simon. ‘Very haute couture.’

Later, Simon says; ‘My sister Jane has a squeaky floorboard outside her room and she always says that after house parties she can’t sleep. At two the first pair go by, then at three the next, and so on.’

* * *

We are staying at Stowell, Nell’s father’s place in Wiltshire.

With her golden hair bobbed over her brow like a Florentine page, Nell seems very young as she sits across the table from me, behind the candles. I listen to him talking economics and gaze across the drinks and between the twisted candlesticks across the polished table, at her lovely face.

She slightly opens her mouth and her eyes gaze, incredibly blue, across the table at me.

Later, Philip is reading the poem of Donne’s ‘This no Tomorrow Has or Yesterday’, and I am still gazing, gazing into her eyes. Often her eyes seem to fill with tears.

‘Her’s is the tempestuous loveliness of beauty,’ I write later, ‘and when I am with her I often feel that I am sinking further and further into an abyss of absolute beauty, a strange locale of ecstacy and silence. This morning my passion for her frightened me. It is this which leads to sorrow. And yet I could welcome sorrow. This is worth anything.’

Back in London we parted. I go back to the studio and she to the flat in Eton Square. At three o’clock next morning the phone rings. I rise from my bed to answer it. It is Nell. ‘My love,’ she says, ‘I’ve had a terrible evening.’

‘Has some man been telling you all his miseries?’

‘Yes, the most awful ones. It was a friend of my father’s. He was waiting when I got home. But don’t let’s talk about that now. I want to think of you. As I always think of you, moving, never still. You must always be to me like you were last weekend, striding across the downs.’

I ask her to hold the receiver to her heart. She does, and I hear its caress against her breast.

‘I can hear something,’ I say.

‘Yes, but only the vibrations,’ she says. ‘It can’t transmit anything worthwhile.’

Then she says, ‘Thank you for such very happy days. The happiest.’


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