‘Only Connect’

Alighting at Russell Square for his appointment at Faber & Faber, Tom saw the advert for a new exhibit at the British Museum and changed course. An hour remained before his editor arrived, full of circumspect praise. Intersecting the square on the diagonal, he strode toward the scarabs, sphinxes and papyrus awaiting him, free for the viewing. In the United States, one paid for entry into museums; the British were far more civilized.
Hat low on his forehead, Tom hoped to avoid any acquaintances who might be scattered among the benches, reading, Morgan, for example, with whom he’d had a literary falling out. When the author of Howard’s End prefaced his novel with the terse, “Only connect,” the banker/poet responded, even more pithily — in terms of syllables — “I can’t.”
The Stephen sisters might be about, and though their square was Gordon, not Russell, the Bloomsbury siblings sometimes passed this way; he always suffered their condescension to his Americanness, try as he might to shed that skin. The sun spotlit the cast iron arms of the benches and, pondering the way the light moved across the wooden slats, he sat, removing a pencil and notebook from his inner pocket.
“Sudden in a shaft of sunlight,” he wrote, noting a now visible sunbeam wafting through the filigreed branches overhead as it struck the bench opposite.
Feeling a tap on his shoulder, he raised his face to the sun. It was Bertrand, whom Tom, in his humorous moments, liked to think of as the Square’s namesake, though there was no truth in it.
“Mr. Russell,” he said, nodding, gesturing toward the empty seat beside him. “Please.”
“The admirable Mr. Eliot,” Bertrand replied. “Thank you, but I see you are hard at work, and my rule is never interrupt an American.”

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