THE RECESSIONAL

Clovis sat in the hottest zone but two of a Turkish bath,

alternately inert in statuesque contemplation and rapidly

manoeuvring a fountain-pen over the pages of a note-book.

“Don’t interrupt me with your childish prattle,” he

observed to Bertie van Tahn, who had slung himself languidly

into a neighbouring chair and looked conversationally

inclined; “I’m writing death-less verse.”

Bertie looked interested.

“I say, what a boon you would be to portrait painters if

you really got to be notorious as a poetry writer. If they

couldn’t get your likeness hung in the Academy as `Clovis

Sangrail, Esq., at work on his latest poem,’ they could slip

you in as a Study of the Nude or Orpheus descending into

Jermyn Street. They always complain that modern dress

handicaps them, whereas a towel and a fountain-pen—”

“It was Mrs. Packletide’s suggestion that I should write

this thing,” said Clovis, ignoring the bypaths to fame that

Bertie van Tahn was pointing out to him. “You see, Loona

Bimberton had a Coronation Ode accepted by the New

Infancy, a paper that has been started with the idea of

making the New Age seem elder and hidebound. `So clever

of you, dear Loona,’ the Packletide remarked when she had

read it; `of course, any one could write a Coronation Ode,

but no one else would have thought of doing it.’ Loona

protested that these things were extremely difficult to do,

and gave us to understand that they were more or less the

province of a gifted few. Now the Packletide has been

rather decent to me in many ways, a sort of financial

ambulance, you know, that carries you off the field when

you’re hard hit, which is a frequent occurrence with me, and

I’ve no use whatever for Loona Bimberton, so I chipped in

and said I could turn out that sort of stuff by the square

yard if I gave my mind to it. Loona said I couldn’t, and we

got bets on, and between you and me I think the money’s

fairly safe. Of course, one of the conditions of the wager

is that the thing has to be published in something or other,

local newspapers barred; but Mrs. Packletide has endeared

herself by many little acts of thoughtfulness to the editor

of the Smoky Chimney, so if I can hammer out anything at

all approaching the level of the usual Ode output we ought

to be all right. So far I’m getting along so comfortably

that I begin to be afraid that I must be one of the gifted

few.”

“It’s rather late in the day for a Coronation Ode, isn’t

it?” said Bertie.

“Of course,” said Clovis; “this is going to be a Durbar

Recessional, the sort of thing that you can keep by you for

all time if you want to.”

“Now I understand your choice of a place to write it

in,” said Bertie van Tahn, with the air of one who has

suddenly unravelled a hitherto obscure problem; “you want

to get the local temperature.”

“I came here to get freedom from the inane interruptions

of the mentally deficient,” said Clovis, “but it seems I

asked too much of fate.”

Bertie van Tahn prepared to use his towel as a weapon of

precision, but reflecting that he had a good deal of

unprotected coast-line himself, and that Clovis was equipped

with a fountain-pen as well as a towel, he relapsed

pacifically into the depths of his chair.

“May one hear extracts from the immortal work?” he

asked. “I promise that nothing that I hear now shall

prejudice me against borrowing a copy of the Smoky Chimney

at the right moment.”

“It’s rather like casting pearls into a trough,”

remarked Clovis pleasantly, “but I don’t mind reading you

bits of it. It begins with a general dispersal of the

Durbar participants:

“ `Back to their homes in Himalayan heights

The stale pale elephants of Cutch Behar

Roll like great galleons on a tideless sea—‘ “

“I don’t believe Cutch Behar is anywhere near the

Himalayan region,” interrupted Bertie. “You ought to have

an atlas on hand when you do this sort of thing; and why

stale and pale?”

“After the late hours and the excitement, of course,”

said Clovis; “and I said their homes were in the

Himalayas. You can have Himalayan elephants in Cutch Behar,

I suppose, just as you have Irish-bred horses running at

Ascot.”

“You said they were going back to the Himalayas,”

objected Bertie.

“Well, they would naturally be sent home to recuperate.

It’s the usual thing out there to turn elephants loose in

the hills, just as we put horses out to grass in this

country.”

Clovis could at least flatter himself that he had infused

some of the reckless splendour of the East into his

mendacity.

“Is it all going to be in blank verse?” asked the

critic.

“Of course not; `Durbar’ comes at the end of the fourth

line.”

“That seems so cowardly; however, it explains why you

pitched on Cutch Behar.”

“There is more connection between geographical

place-names and poetical inspiration than is generally

recognized; one of the chief reasons why there are so few

really great poems about Russia in our language is that you

can’t possibly get a rhyme to names like Smolensk and

Tobolsk and Minsk.”

Clovis spoke with the authority of one who has tried.

“Of course, you could rhyme Omsk with Tomsk,” he

continued; “in fact, they seem to be there for that

purpose, but the public wouldn’t stand that sort of thing

indefinitely.”

“The public will stand a good deal,” said Bertie

malevolently, “and so small a proportion of it knows

Russian that you could always have an explanatory footnote

asserting that the last three letters in Smolensk are not

pronounced. It’s quite as believable as your statement

about putting elephants out to grass in the Himalayan

range.”

“I’ve got rather a nice bit,” resumed Clovis with

unruffled serenity, “giving an evening scene on the

outskirts of a jungle village:

“ `Where the coiled cobra in the gloaming gloats,

And prowling panthers stalk the wary goats.’ “

“There is practically no gloaming in tropical

countries,” said Bertie indulgently; “but I like the

masterly reticence with which you treat the cobra’s motive

for gloating. The unknown is proverbially the uncanny. I

can picture nervous readers of the Smoky Chimney keeping

the light turned on in their bedrooms all night out of sheer

sickening uncertainty as to what the cobra might have been

gloating about.”

“Cobras gloat naturally,” said Clovis, “just as wolves

are always ravening from mere force of habit, even after

they’ve hopelessly overeaten themselves. I’ve got a fine

bit of colour painting later on,” he added, “where I

describe the dawn coming up over the Brahmaputra river:

“ `The amber dawn-drenched East with sun-shafts kissed,

Stained sanguine apricot and amethyst,

O’er the washed emerald of the mango groves

Hangs in a mist of opalescent mauves,

While painted parrot-flights impinge the haze

With scarlet, chalcedon and chrysoprase.” ‘

“I’ve never seen the dawn come up over the Brahmaputra

river,” said Bertie, “so I can’t say if it’s a good

description of the event, but it sounds more like an account

of an extensive jewel robbery. Anyhow, the parrots give a

good useful touch of local colour. I suppose you’ve

introduced some tigers into the scenery? An Indian landscape

would have rather a bare, unfinished look without a tiger or

two in the middle distance.”

“I’ve got a hen-tiger somewhere in the poem,” said

Clovis, hunting through his notes. “Here she is:

“ `The tawny tigress ‘mid the tangled teak

Drags to her purring cubs’ enraptured ears

The harsh death-rattle in the pea-fowl’s beak,

A jungle lullaby of blood and tears.’ “

Bertie van Tahn rose hurriedly from his recumbent position

and made for the glass door leading into the next

compartment.

“I think your idea of home life in the jungle is

perfectly horrid,” he said. “The cobra was sinister

enough, but the improvised rattle in the tiger-nursery is

the limit. If you’re going to make me turn hot and cold all

over I may as well go into the steam room at once.”

“Just listen to this line,” said Clovis; “it would make

the reputation of any ordinary poet:

“ `and overhead

The pendulum-patient Punkah, parent of stillborn breeze.’ “

“Most of your readers will think `punkah’ is a kind of

iced drink or half-time at polo,” said Bertie, and

disappeared into the steam.

*

The Smoky Chimney duly published the “Recessional,”

but it proved to be its swan song, for the paper never

attained to another issue.

Loona Bimberton gave up her intention of attending the

Durbar and went into a nursing-home on the Sussex Downs.

Nervous breakdown after a particularly strenuous season was

the usually accepted explanation, but there are three or

four people who know that she never really recovered from

the dawn breaking over the Brahmaputra river.