The Tempting of Tavernake
I.10. The Joy Of Battle
They sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, in the topmost corner of the field. In the hedge,
close at hand, was a commotion of birds. In the elm tree, a little further away, a thrush
was singing. A soft west wind blew in their faces; the air immediately around them was
filled with sunlight. Yet almost to their feet stretched one of those great arms of the city--
a suburb, with its miles of villas, its clanging of electric cars, its waste plots, its rows of
struggling shops. And only a little further away still, the body itself--the huge city,
throbbing beneath its pall of smoke and cloud. The girl, who had been gazing steadily
downwards for several moments, turned at last to her companion.
"Do you know," she said, "that this makes me think of the first night you spoke to me?
You remember it--up on the roof at Blenheim House?"
Tavernake did not answer for a moment. He was looking through a queerly-shaped
instrument that he had brought with him at half-a-dozen stakes that he had laboriously
driven into the ground some distance away. He was absolutely absorbed in his task.
"The main avenue," he muttered softly to himself. "Yes, it must be a trifle more to the
left. Then we get all the offshoots parallel and the better houses have their southern
aspect. I beg your pardon, Beatrice, did you say anything?" he broke off suddenly.
"Nothing worth mentioning. I was just thinking that it reminded me a little up here of the
first time you and I ever talked together."
He glanced down at the panorama below, with its odd jumble of hideous buildings,
softened here and there with wreaths of sunstained smoke, its great blots of ugliness
"It's different, of course," she went on. "I remember, even now, the view from the house-
top that night. In a sense, it was finer than this; everything was more lurid and yet more
chaotic; one simply felt that underneath all those mysterious places was some great being,
toiling and struggling--Life itself, groaning through space with human cogwheels. Up
here one sees too much. Oh, my dear Leonard," she continued, "to think that you, too,
should be one of the devastators!"
He fitted his instrument into its case and replaced it in his pocket.
"Come," he said, "you mustn't call me hard names. I shall remind you of the man whose
works you are making me read. You know what he says--'The aesthete is, after all, only a
dallier. The world lives and progresses by reason of its utilitarians.' This hill represents to
me most of the things that are worth having in life."