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I DON’T know whether you know anything about writing books, but if you don’t you can take it from me that it isn’t anything like an ordinary job. You can’t just lay it aside at the end of one day and take it up again on the next. From the moment you begin a book to the moment you punch in the last full-stop you’ve got to live with it; eat it, drink it, breathe it; carry it about with you all your waking hours and some of the sleeping ones; a veritable old man of the sea, impossible to shake off or even push into the background. And, invariably, at a point about two-thirds of the way through the job, you are seized with a sort of soul-sickness. You gaze with a dull disgust at the sheet of paper before you and wonder when, if ever, the damned thing will be finished, and whether it is worth all the trouble and brain-fag. After a spell during which ideas dry up, and your vocabulary seems suddenly to have gone west; after a spell of mental indigestion; you find your second wind, and you plug on until the thing is finished. Then, for a few weeks or so, you experience a delightful freedom and lightness of spirit—until the poison wells up once more and you start all over again. At the moment this chronicle opens I had lost my first wind, had not yet found my second, and was in the grip of a violent attack of mental indigestion. I gazed in a rather cock-eyed and abstracted fashion at page 205 of the current effort, smoked three cigarettes one after the other, and added two words to a sentence that I knew in my bones was a particularly clumsy ending to a clumsy paragraph. Then I smoked another cigarette and dotted in a full-stop. After which I gave it up in despair and looked across the room at Fleur.

Fleur . . . That isn’t her real name; that is what I call her. For she is lovely, just lovely. She is small and dainty and fastidious; she has a curling cloud of dark hair, so thick and lustrous that it is the bane of her life and the delight of mine, great grey eyes that are the sun and the moon and the stars to me, and a mouth that is a red flower growing at the gate of heaven. She is exquisite and I adore her. I sat and stared at her. She was busy with a needle and there was a tiny frown of concentration on her forehead. My heart smote me. Too many evenings had she been plying that needle and keeping very quiet so that I could carry on undisturbed with my two-finger exercises on the typewriter.

“This isn’t much fun for you, is it, Fleur?” I said apologetically.

She looked up. The tiny frown of concentration vanished and she smiled.

“Why, what do you mean, darling?”

“Well,” I said, “this. Night after night I’ve been sitting here hammering away at this mangle without saying a word to you, leaving you to make your own amusement—I don’t seem to have taken you out anywhere for weeks. You must be bored stiff, you poor sweet.”

“Oh, darling, no. I’m very busy. Look at this!”

She held up for my inspection what in a day or two would be something exceedingly swagger in the way of a dinner-frock. Fleur is clever with a needle and makes most of her own clothes.

“Uh-huh!” I sighed. “You’ll look breathtaking in it, as usual, when it’s done, but you don’t really need it. Only doing it, I expect, to pass the time while I’m sitting here muttering, to myself. Fleur, what do you say to a little holiday somewhere? I’m fed up to the back teeth with this thing, and I’ve been neglecting you shamefully. You’ll be getting sick of me.”

She dropped her work in her lap and smiled at me again—that special little smile that she keeps for me and for which, I admit frankly, I had fished.

“But the book? How is it going?”

“Same as usual. The heroine is in a really sticky mess and the hero has just discovered that his popgun won’t work. And they’re both surrounded by thugs armed to the teeth. What do we do next? They’ve got to get to the wedding bells on page 316, but how do I get ’em out of this oubliette?”

“Shoot out the light,” suggested Fleur, who is beginning to know the ropes.

“But the poor perisher’s gun is jammed, darling.”

“Well, he could throw the gun at the light and they could escape in the ensuing confusion—there’s always an ensuing confusion, isn’t there?”

I stared at her in admiration.

“This,” I announced, “is sheer genius. Of course, he will hurl the useless weapon and smash the bulb, and in the—er—ensuing confusion he can grab the guns of thugs A and B and shoot his way out. . . .”

“M’m,” mused Fleur, “it does sound a bit farfetched, doesn’t it?”

“My sweet,” I said, “it is far-fetched, but that doesn’t matter. You can do anything in a book like this.” I sighed again. “But, seriously, I could do with a break. I’ve got to the point where I feel I have a second-hand chunk of chewing-gum instead of a brain. Besides, I want to take you round a bit and show you off. How about it?”

“If you feel like that, of course we’ll go,” she said, laughing softly. “But where?”

We argued the point about this for some little while and finally decided that we should push off in the car the following day and go where our fancy took us. This being settled, Fleur grew suddenly serious.

“But you mustn’t say things like that, like me getting sick of you. You’re so sweet to me and, oh,, darling, I’m so happy just being with you. . . .”

And what could I do at that but first kiss a rose to cleanse my lips and then kiss Fleur’s lovely mouth?

So we set out the following day. But had I the faintest inkling of what was coming I should have taken her in my arms and never stirred from our home. For, though it started on a casual and humorous note, before that holiday was over I had been dragged through the pits of hell before I regained the heaven that I had thought lost to me for good.


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