13 DECEMBER 1940, Page 11


By A. MOLNIKOFF y WATCHED her across the chess-board. She was deeply I engrossed in the game. She supported her sallow face with both hands as she gazed steadily upon the chess-men. Outside enemy aircraft zoomed and circled in the moonless, inky night, end the guns roared and spat fire at them. Now and then the air vibrated with the fall and thud of bombs in the far-away distance and the lighter statuary in my studio trembled, shook and rattled. I picked up a paper spill and moved closer to the fire. I lit my pipe and looked at my friend, but she was still wrapped up in the game. I smoked and waited quietly for some time. Then I turned to her and asked: "Well! Whose move is it now?" For I wanted to urge her on to play.

She straightened her body with a jerk and looked at me, and then everything happened at once. . . .

It seemed as though Hell were let loose on earth. The light went out. Walls trembled and fell. Bronze, wood, terra-cotta and plaster statuary moved above the place like living things. They jumped and dashed from one end of .the studio to the other as though possessed by a devil. The glass roof. came down with a shriek and was shattered into bits. The big black-out curtain billowed out into the studio and looked like an enormous bat hovering over everything. And above all these things the frenzied shriek of my friend . . . And then there was dead quiet and a deep darkness that was broken now and then by the pale struggling flame that still burned in the grate. The air was thick with bitter, dry dust. I felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder while I stood knee-deep in debris: bricks, plaster, tools, books, and all the other things that make up a sculptor's studio.

All that happened in the space of seconds . . . I groped around and found my friend huddled deep in the huge chair. I pulled her out with difficulty. From outside came the ring of the fire-engine and a multitude of voices. Somebody shouted through the smashed window and enquired: ", Everybody all right here?" And then my friend and I were helped out I was puzzled—for the moment she came out she was herself again. She had not suffered as much as a scratch, and when I asked her why she shrieked so terribly she shook her head and denied it.

"I," she cried, "I did not shriek. It was you," she -pro- tested. "You shrieked."

I looked at her. She almost convinced me.

"But," said I, "I did not shriek."

She was furious. I never saw her so angry as she was then. She stamped her foot and insisted that it was I who had shrieked.

Next day, although I was still in pain and using a stick to support my smashed foot, I was none the worse for my experience, and together we went to inspect the rooms of my dwelling. We stood at the open door for a long time and scrutinised what was but yesterday a quiet and peaceful place devoted to dreams, work and rest, and what was now a ruin, as well as the statuary that dwelt in it—big and small—where each had a place and equally shared the light and shade of the room. Most of it lay now scattered, broken and mixed up in unbelievable, grotesque heaps. A large study of Paul lay with both hands outstretched across a delicate marble female torso. A huge statue of an unemployed, its head twisted round, had fallen flat on the floor. A small bronze head of a child crashed right through a colossal figure of Maccabeus. There it was, as though modelled on purpose into the very centre of the torso. It peeped out and its little face grinned.

We were both looking at the same thing, for we turned our faces to each other, but we did not speak. We stepped lr'0 the studio and began to sort out a few personal belongings. IP. the corner where there stood a small cabinet with papers, jlawings and other things, the cabinet was empty and the papers blown all over the room. But in front of the fire- grate, still standing in its place, was the little table, and on it the chess-board with some of the chess-men still standing on the squares. We stopped and looked at each other and then we laughed.

I asked: "And whose move was it?"

And she looked round and circled with her hand.

"Hitler's," she answered.

Except for some of the bronzes and other things made of solid material, everything was smashed. A deep loneliness sank into my whole being. All these things were part of me —fruits of fancy, brawn and muscle—the work .of years now thrown into void, a thousand dreams obliterated with one cruel stroke. A whole past sank thus into a deep chasm never to be redeemed.

For days I could not come near the place—this my private "Wailing Wall "—until one morning I was forced by circum- stances to go there again. It was a bright sunny morning. The street was crowded with men and machinery and the noise of the pneumatic drill filled the air. It bit with fury into the hard concrete of the road. I stopped and watched the men. They worked, talked, drank tea and joked. One of them, a huge fellow, was swinging a sledge hammer, and as I watched him my hands itched. I was filled with desire for work and action.

I found my way to my ruined workroom and started to sort out my tools which were strewn about the floor. Some- how—I did not know why—looking round on the ruins of my past work I was not sorry for what had happened, and I did not know why. I felt as though I was liberated of the heavy weight of the past. I felt free now and full of hope for the future. All sorts of things came into my mind, plans and visions of future work. My whole being seemed to pass into a new land and new life. In a far corner of the room stood a large clay-bin. I picked my way across the statuary-littered floor, over heads, hands, legs and broken figures, and came towards it. I lifted the lid off the bin and looked into it and then I dug into it and picked up a handful. I pressed it into my hand ; the soft, moist, cool clay came in leaves between my fingers and my whole being was thrilled. Then I looked around my room and thought: There is more hope in that bin full of clay than in all the statuary in the world. Yes, I thought, it is my move now.