In the middle of his story about the Moors and the precipice, Pete became aware that only the Foreground¹ was listening to him. Virginia’s attention had wandered, surreptitiously at first, then frankly and avowed—had wandered to where, on her left, the less blonde of her two friends, was having something almost whispered to her by Dr. Obispo.
“What’s that?” Virginia asked.
Dr. Obispo leaned towards her and began again. The three heads, the oil-smooth black, the elaborately curly brown, the lustrous auburn, were almost touching. By the expression on their faces Pete could see that the doctor was telling one of his dirty stories. Alleviated for a moment by the smile she had given him when she asked him to tell them about Spain², the anguish in that panting void where his heart ought to have been came back with redoubled intensity. It was a complicated pain, made up of jealousy and a despairing sense of loss and personal unworthiness, of a fear that his angel was being corrupted and another, deeper fear, which his conscious mind refused to formulate, a fear that there wasn’t much further corruption to be done, that the angel was not as angelic as his love had made him assume. The flow of his narrative suddenly dried up. He was silent.
¹ Foreground refers to one of Virginia’s blonde female friends who happens to be sitting closer to Pete that Virginia herself.
² Immediately prior to these narrative events, Virginia had exuberantly elicited Pete to tell her and the group about his activities as a soldier in the Spanish civil war.
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
Aldous Huxley 1939