By Ford Madox Ford
The two young men--they were of the English public official class--sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage. The leather straps to the windows were of virgin newness; the mirrors beneath the new luggage racks immaculate as if they had reflected very little; the bulging upholstery in its luxuriant, regulated curves was scarlet and yellow in an intricate, minute dragon pattern, the design of a geometrician in Cologne. The compartment smelt faintly, hygienically of admirable varnish; the train ran as smoothly--Tietjens remembered thinking--as British gilt-edged securities. It travelled fast; yet had it swayed or jolted over the rail joints, except at the curve before Tonbridge or over the points at Ashford where these eccentricities are expected and allowed for, Macmaster, Tietjens felt certain, would have written to the company. Perhaps he would even have written to The Times.
Their class administered the world, not merely the newly created Imperial Department of Statistics under Sir Reginald Ingleby. If they saw policemen misbehave, railway porters lack civility, an insufficiency of street lamps, defects in public services or in foreign countries, they saw to it, either with nonchalant Balliol voices or with letters to The Times, asking in regretful indignation: 'Has the British This or That come to this?' Or they wrote, in the serious reviews of which so many still survived, articles taking under their care, manners, the Arts, diplomacy, inter-Imperial trade, or the personal reputations of deceased statesmen and men of letters.
Macmaster, that is to say, would do all that: of himself Tietjens was not so certain. There sat Macmaster; smallish; Whig; with a trimmed, pointed black beard, such as a smallish man might wear to enhance his already germinated distinction; black hair of a stubborn fibre, drilled down with hard metal brushes; a sharp nose; strong, level teeth; a white, butterfly collar of the smoothness of porcelain; a tie confined by a gold ring, steel-blue speckled with black--to match his eyes, as Tietjens knew.
Tietjens, on the other hand, could not remember what coloured tie he had on. He had taken a cab from the office to their rooms, had got himself into a loose, tailored coat and trousers, and a soft shirt, had packed, quickly, but still methodically, a great number of things in an immense two-handled kit-bag, which you could throw into a guard's van if need be. He disliked letting that 'man' touch his things; he had disliked letting his wife's maid pack for him. He even disliked letting porters carry his kit-bag. He was a Tory--and as he disliked changing his clothes, there he sat, on the journey, already in large, brown, hugely welted and nailed golf boots, leaning forward on the edge of the cushion, his legs apart, on each knee an immense white hand--and thinking vaguely.
Macmaster, on the other hand, was leaning back, reading some small, unbound printed sheets, rather stiff, frowning a little. Tietjens knew that this was, for Macmaster, an impressive moment. He was correcting the proofs of his first book.
To this affair, as Tietjens knew, there attached themselves many fine shades. If, for instance, you had asked Macmaster whether he were a writer, he would have replied with the merest suggestion of a deprecatory shrug.
'No, dear lady!' for of course no man would ask the question of anyone so obviously a man of the world. And he would continue with a smile: 'Nothing so fine! A mere trifle at odd moments. A critic, perhaps. Yes! A little of critic.'
Nevertheless Macmaster moved in drawing rooms that, with long curtains, blue china plates, large-patterned wallpapers and large, quiet mirrors, sheltered the long-haired of the Arts. And, as near as possible to the dear ladies who gave the At Homes, Macmaster could keep up the talk--a little magisterially. He liked to be listened to with respect when he spoke of Botticelli, Rossetti, and those early Italian artists whom he called 'The Primitives.' Tietjens had seen him there. And he didn't disapprove.
For, if they weren't, these gatherings, Society, they formed a stage on the long and careful road to a career in a first-class Government office. And, utterly careless as Tietjens imagined himself of careers or offices, he was, if sardonically, quite sympathetic towards his friend's ambitiousnesses. It was an odd friendship, but the oddnesses of friendships are a frequent guarantee of their lasting texture.
The youngest son of a Yorkshire country gentleman, Tietjens himself was entitled to the best--the best that first-class public offices and first-class people could afford. He was without ambition, but these things would come to him as they do in England. So he could afford to be negligent of his attire, of the company he kept, of the opinions he uttered. He had a little private income under his mother's settlement; a little income from the Imperial Department of Statistics; he had married a woman of means, and he was, in the Tory manner, sufficiently a master of flouts and jeers to be listened to when he spoke. He was twenty-six; but, very big, in a fair, untidy, Yorkshire way, he carried more weight than his age warranted. His chief, Sir Reginald Ingleby, when Tietjens chose to talk of public tendencies which influenced statistics, would listen with attention. Sometimes Sir Reginald would say: 'You're a perfect encyclopaedia of exact material knowledge, Tietjens,' and Tietjens thought that that was his due, and he would accept the tribute in silence.
At a word from Sir Reginald, Macmaster, on the other hand, would murmur: 'You're very good, Sir Reginald!' and Tietjens thought that perfectly proper.
Macmaster was a little the senior in the service, as he was probably a little the senior in age. For, as to his roommate's years, or as to his exact origins, there was a certain blank in Tietjens' knowledge. Macmaster was obviously Scotch by birth, and you accepted him as what was called a son of the manse. No doubt he was really the son of a grocer in Cupar or a railway porter in Edinburgh. It does not matter with the Scotch, and as he was very properly reticent as to his ancestry, having accepted him, you didn't, even mentally, make enquiries.
Tietjens always had accepted Macmaster--at Clifton, at Cambridge, in Chancery Lane and in their rooms at Gray's Inn. So for Macmaster he had a very deep affection--even a gratitude. And Macmaster might be considered as returning these feelings. Certainly he had always done his best to be of service to Tietjens. Already at the Treasury and attached as private secretary to Sir Reginald Ingleby, whilst Tietjens was still at Cambridge, Macmaster had brought to the notice of Sir Reginald Tietjens' many great natural gifts, and Sir Reginald, being on the look-out for young men for his ewe lamb, his newly founded department, had very readily accepted Tietjens as his third in command. On the other hand, it had been Tietjens' father who had recommended Macmaster to the notice of Sir Thomas Block at the Treasury itself. And, indeed, the Tietjens family had provided a little money--that was Tietjens' mother really--to get Macmaster through Cambridge and install him in Town. He had repaid the small sum--paying it partly by finding room in his chambers for Tietjens when in turn he came to Town.
With a Scots young man such a position had been perfectly possible. Tietjens had been able to go to his fair, ample, saintly mother in her morning-room and say:
'Look here, mother, that fellow Macmaster! He'll need a little money to get through the University,' and his mother would answer:
'Yes, my dear. How much?'
With an English young man of the lower orders that would have left a sense of class obligation. With Macmaster it just didn't.
During Tietjens' late trouble--for four months before Tietjens' wife had left him to go abroad with another man--Macmaster had filled a place that no other mart could have filled. For the basis of Christopher Tietjens' emotional existence was a complete taciturnity--at any rate as to his emotions. As Tietjens saw the world, you didn't 'talk.' Perhaps you didn't even think about how you felt.
And, indeed, his wife's flight had left him almost completely without emotions that he could realize, and he had not spoken more than twenty words at most about the event. Those had been mostly to his father, who, very tall, very largely built, silver-haired and erect, had drifted, as it were, into Macmaster's drawing-room in Gray's Inn, and after five minutes of silence had said:
'You will divorce?'
Christopher had answered:
'No! No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.'
Mr Tietjens had suggested that, and after an interval had asked:
'You will permit her to divorce you?'
He had answered:
'If she wishes it. There's the child to be considered.' Mr Tietjens said:
'You will get her settlement transferred to the child?' Christopher answered:
'If it can be done without friction.'
Mr Tietjens had commented only:
'Ah!' Some minutes later he had said:
'Your mother's very well.' Then: 'That motor-plough didn't answer,' and then: 'I shall be dining at the club.' Christopher said:
'May I bring Macmaster in, sir? You said you would put him up.'
Mr Tietjens answered:
'Yes, do. Old General ffolliot will be there. He'll second him. He'd better make his acquaintance.' He had gone away.
Tietjens considered that his relationship with his father was an almost perfect one. They were like two men in the club--the only club; thinking so alike that there was no need to talk. His father had spent a great deal of time abroad before succeeding to the estate. When, over the moors, he went into the industrial town that he owned, he drove always in a coach-and-four. Tobacco smoke had never been known inside Groby Hall: Mr Tietjens had twelve pipes filled every morning by his head gardener and placed in rose bushes down the drive. These he smoked during the day. He farmed a good deal of his own land; had sat for Holdernesse from 1876 to 1881, and had not presented himself for election after the redistribution of seats; he was patron of eleven livings; rode to hounds every now and then, and shot fairly regularly. He had three other sons and two daughters, and was now sixty-one.
To his sister Effie, on the day after his wife's elopement, Christopher had said over the telephone:
'Will you take Tommie for an indefinite period? Mar-chant will come with him. She offers to take charge of your two youngest as well, so you'll save a maid, and I'll pay their board and a bit over.'
The voice of his sister--from Yorkshire--had answered: 'Certainly, Christopher.' She was the wife of a vicar, near Groby, and she had several children.
To Macmaster Tietjens had said:
'Sylvia has left me with that fellow Perowne.' Macmaster had answered only: 'Ah!'
Tietjens had continued:
'I'm letting the house and warehousing the furniture. Tommie is going to my sister Effie. Marchant is going with him.'
Macmaster had said:
'Then you'll be wanting your old rooms.' Macmaster occupied a very large storey of the Gray's Inn buildings. After Tietjens had left him on his marriage he had continued to enjoy solitude, except that his man had moved down from the attic to the bedroom formerly occupied by Tietjens.
'I'll come in to-morrow night if I may. That will give Ferens time to get back into his attic.'
That morning, at breakfast, four months having passed, Tietjens had received a letter from his wife. She asked, without any contrition at all, to be taken back. She was fed-up with Perowne and Brittany.
Tietjens looked up at Macmaster. Macmaster was already half out of his chair, looking at him with enlarged, steel-blue eyes, his beard quivering. By the time Tietjens spoke Macmaster had his hand on the neck of the cut-glass brandy decanter in the brown wood tantalus.
'Sylvia asks me to take her back.'
'Have a little of this!'
Tietjens was about to say: 'No,' automatically. He changed that to:
'Yes. Perhaps. A liqueur glass.'
He noticed that the lip of the decanter agitated, tinkling on the glass. Macmaster must be trembling. Macmaster, with his back still turned, said:
'Shall you take her back?'
'I imagine so.' The brandy warmed his chest in its descent. Macmaster said:
'Better have another.'
Macmaster went on with his breakfast and his letters. So did Tietjens. Ferens came in, removed the bacon plates and set on the table a silver water-heated dish that contained poached eggs and haddock. A long time afterwards Tietjens said:
'Yes, in principle I'm determined to. But I shall take three days to think out the details.'
He seemed to have no feelings about the matter. Certain insolent phrases in Sylvia's letter hung in his mind. He preferred a letter like that. The brandy made no difference to his mentality, but it seemed to keep him from shivering.
'Suppose we go down to Rye by the 11.40. We could get a round after tea now the days are long. I want to call on a parson near there. He has helped me with my book.'
'Did your poet know parsons? But of course he did_ Duchemin is the name, isn't it?
'We could call about two-thirty. That will be all right in the country. We stay till four with a cab outside. We can be on the first tee at five. If we like the course we'll stay next day: then Tuesday at Hythe and Wednesday at Sandwich. Or we could stay at Rye all your three days.'
'It will probably suit me better to keep moving,' Tietjens said. 'There are those British Columbia figures of yours. If we took a cab now I could finish them for you in an hour and twelve minutes. Then British North Africa can go to the printers. It's only 8.30 now.'
Macmaster said, with some concern:
'Oh, but you couldn't: I can make our going all right with Sir Reginald.'
'Oh yes, I can. Ingleby will be pleased if you tell him they're finished. I'll have them ready for you to give him when he comes at ten.'
'What an extraordinary fellow you are, Chrissie. Almost a genius!'
'Oh,' Tietjens answered: 'I was looking at your papers yesterday after you'd left and I've got most of the totals in my head. I was thinking about them before I went to sleep. I think you make a mistake in over-estimating the pull of Klondyke this year on the population. The passes are open, but relatively no one is going through. I'll add a note to that effect.'
In the cab he said:
'I'm sorry to bother you with my beastly affairs. But how will it affect you and the office?'
'The office,' Macmaster said, 'not at all. It is supposed that Sylvia is nursing Mrs Satterthwaite abroad. As for me, I wish...'--he closed his small, strong teeth--'I wish you would drag the woman through the mud. By God I do! Why should she mangle you for the rest of your life? She's done enough!'
Tietjens gazed out over the flap of the cab.
That explained a question. Some days before, a young man, a friend of his wife's rather than of his own, had approached him in the club and had said that he hoped Mrs Satterthwaite--his wife's mother--was better. He said now:
'I see. Mrs Satterthwaite has probably gone abroad to cover up Sylvia's retreat. She's a sensible woman, if a bitch.'
The hansom ran through nearly empty streets, it being very early for the public official quarters. The hoofs of the horse clattered precipitately. Tietjens preferred a hansom, horses being made for gentlefolk. He had known nothing of how his fellows had viewed his affairs. It was breaking up a great, numb inertia to enquire.
During the last few months he had employed himself in tabulating from memory the errors in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, of which a new edition had lately appeared. He had even written an article for a dull monthly on the subject. It had been so caustic as to miss its mark, rather. He despised people who used works of reference; but the point of view had been so unfamiliar that his article had galled no one's withers, except possibly Macmaster's. Actually it had pleased Sir Reginald Ingleby, who had been glad to think that he had under him a young man with a memory so tenacious and so encyclopaedic a knowledge...That had been a congenial occupation, like a long drowse. Now he had to make enquiries. He said:
'And my breaking up the establishment at twenty-nine? How's that viewed? I'm not going to have a house again.'
'It's considered,' Macmaster answered, 'that Lowndes Street did not agree with Mrs Satterthwaite. That accounted for her illness. Drains wrong. I may say that Sir Reginald entirely--expressly--approves. He does not think that young married men in Government offices should keep up expensive establishments in the S.W. district.'
'Damn him.' He added: 'He's probably right though.' He then said: 'Thanks. That's all I want to know. A certain discredit has always attached to cuckolds. Very properly. A man ought to be able to keep his wife.'
Macmaster exclaimed anxiously:
'No! No! Chrissie.'
'And a first-class public office is very like a public school. It might very well object to having a man whose wife had bolted amongst its members. I remember Clifton hated it when the Governors decided to admit the first Jew and the first nigger.'
'I wish you wouldn't go on.'
'There was a fellow,' Tietjens continued, 'whose land was next to ours. Conder his name was. His wife was habitually unfaithful to him. She used to retire with some fellow for three months out of every year. Conder never moved a finger. But we felt Groby and the neighbourhood were unsafe. It was awkward introducing him--not to mention her--in your drawing-room. All sorts of awkwardnesses. Everyone knew the younger children weren't Conder's. A fellow married the youngest daughter and took over the hounds. And not a soul called on her. It wasn't rational or just. But that's why society distrusts the cuckold, really. It never knows when it mayn't be driven into something irrational and unjust.'
'But you aren't,' Macmaster said with real anguish, 'going to let Sylvia behave like that.'
'I don't know,' Tietjens said. 'How am I to stop it? Mind you, I think Conder was quite right. Such calamities are the will of God. A gentleman accepts them. If the woman won't divorce, he must accept them, and it gets talked about. You seem to have made it all right this time. You and, I suppose, Mrs Satterthwaite between you. But you won't be always there. Or I might come across another woman.'
'Ah!' and after a moment:
'God knows...There's that poor little beggar to be considered. Marchant says he's beginning to talk broad Yorkshire already.'
'If it wasn't for that...That would be a solution.'
Tietjens said: 'Ah!'
When he paid the cabman, in front of a grey cement portal with a gabled arch, reaching up, he said:
'You've been giving the mare less liquorice in her mash. I told you she'd go better.'
The cabman, with a scarlet, varnished face, a shiny hat, a drab box-cloth coat and a gardenia in his buttonhole, said:
'Ah! Trust you to remember, sir.'
In the train, from beneath his pile of polished dressing and despatch cases--Tietjens had thrown his immense kitbag with his own hands into the guard's van--Macmaster looked across at his friend. It was, for him, a great day. Across his face were the proof-sheets of his first, small, delicate-looking volume...A small page, the type black and still odorous! He had the agreeable smell of the printer's ink in his nostrils; the fresh paper was still a little damp. In his white, rather spatulate, always slightly cold fingers was the pressure of the small, flat, gold pencil he had purchased especially for these corrections. He had found none to make.
He had expected a wallowing of pleasure--almost the only sensuous pleasure he had allowed himself for many months. Keeping up the appearances of an English gentleman on an exiguous income was no mean task. But to wallow in your own phrases, to be rejoiced by the savour of your own shrewd pawkiness, to feel your rhythm balanced and yet sober--that is a pleasure beyond most, and an inexpensive one at that. He had had it from mere 'articles'--on the philosophies and domestic lives of such great figures as Carlyle and Mill, or on the expansion of inter-colonial trade. This was a book.
He relied upon it to consolidate his position. In the office they were mostly 'born,' and not vastly sympathetic. There was a sprinkling, too--it was beginning to be a large one--of young men who had obtained their entry by merit or by sheer industry. These watched promotions jealously, discerning nepotic increases of increment and clamouring amongst themselves at favouritisms.
To these he had been able to turn a cold shoulder. His intimacy with Tietjens permitted him to be rather on the 'born' side of the institution, his agreeableness--he knew he was agreeable and useful!--to Sir Reginald Ingleby protecting him in the main from unpleasantness. His 'articles' had given him a certain right to an austerity of demeanour; his book he trusted to let him adopt an almost judicial attitude. He would then be the Mr Macmaster, the critic, the authority. And the first-class departments are not averse to having distinguished men as ornaments to their company; at any rate the promotions of the distinguished are not objected to. So Macmaster saw--almost physically--Sir Reginald Ingleby perceiving the empressement with which his valued subordinate was treated in the drawing-rooms of Mrs Leamington, Mrs Cressy, the Hon. Mrs de Limoux; Sir Reginald would perceive that, for he was not a reader himself of much else than Government publications, and he would feel fairly safe in making easy the path of his critically gifted and austere young helper. The son of a very poor shipping clerk in an obscure Scotch harbour town, Macmaster had very early decided on the career that he would make. As between the heroes of Mr Smiles, an author enormously popular in Macmaster's boyhood, and the more distinctly intellectual achievements open to the very poor Scot, Macmaster had had no difficulty in choosing. A pit lad may rise to be a mine owner; a hard, gifted, unsleeping Scots youth, pursuing unobtrusively and unobjectionably a course of study and of public usefulness, will certainly achieve distinction, security, and the quiet admiration of those around him. It was the difference between the may and the will, and Macmaster had had no difficulty in making his choice. He saw himself by now almost certain of a career that should give him at fifty a knighthood, and long before that a competence, a drawing-room of his own and a lady who should contribute to his unobtrusive fame, she moving about, in that room, amongst the best of the intellects of the day, gracious, devoted, a tribute at once to his discernment and his achievements. Without some disaster he was sure of himself. Disasters come to men through drink, bankruptcy, and women. Against the first two he knew himself immune, though his expenses had a tendency to outrun his income, and he was always a little in debt to Tietj ens. Tietjens fortunately had means. As to the third, he was not so certain. His life had necessarily been starved of women and, arrived at a stage when the female element might, even with due respect to caution, be considered as a legitimate feature of his life, he had to fear a rashness of choice due to that very starvation. The type of woman he needed he knew to exactitude: tall, graceful, dark, loose-gowned, passionate yet circumspect, oval-featured, deliberate, gracious to everyone around her. He could almost hear the very rustle of her garments.
And yet...He had had passages when a sort of blind unreason had attracted him almost to speechlessness towards girls of the most giggling, behind-the-counter order, big-bosomed, scarlet-cheeked. It was only Tietjens who had saved him from the most questionable entanglements.
'Hang it,' Tietjens would say, 'don't get messing round that trollop. All you could do with her would be to set her up in a tobacco shop, and she would be tearing your beard out inside the quarter. Let alone you can't afford it.'
And Macmaster, who would have sentimentalized the plump girl to the tune of Highland Mary, would for a day damn Tietjens up and down for a coarse brute. But at the moment he thanked God for Tietj ens. There he sat, near to thirty, without an entanglement, a blemish on his health, or a worry with regard to any woman.
With deep affection and concern he looked across at his brilliant junior, who hadn't saved himself. Tietjens had fallen into the most barefaced snare, into the cruellest snare, of the worst woman that could be imagined.
And Macmaster suddenly realized that he wasn't wallowing, as he had imagined that he would, in the sensuous current of his prose. He had begun spiritedly with the first neat square of a paragraph...Certainly his publishers had done well by him in the matter of print:
'Whether we consider him as the imaginer of mysterious, sensuous and exact plastic beauty; as the manipulator of sonorous, rolling and full-mouthed lines; of words as full of colour as were his canvases; or whether we regard him as the deep philosopher, elucidating and drawing his illumination from the arcana of a mystic hardly greater than himself, to Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, the subject of this little monograph, must be accorded the name of one who has profoundly influenced the outward aspects, the human contacts, and all those things that go to make up the life of our higher civilization as we live it to-day...'
Macmaster realized that he had only got thus far with his prose, and had got thus far without any of the relish that he had expected, and that then he had turned to the middle paragraph of page three--after the end of his exordium. His eyes wandered desultorily along the line:
'The subject of these pages was born in the western central district of the metropolis in the year...'
The words conveyed nothing to him at all. He understood that that was because he hadn't got over that morning. He had looked up from his coffee-cup--over the rim--and had taken in a blue-grey sheet of notepaper in Tietjens' fingers, shaking, inscribed in the large, broad-nibbed writing of that detestable harridan. And Tietjens had been staring--staring with the intentness of a maddened horse--at his, Macmaster's, face! And grey! Shapeless! The nose like a pallid triangle on a bladder of lard! That was Tietjens' face...
He could still feel the blow, physical, in the pit of his stomach! He had thought Tietjens was going mad; that he was mad. It had passed. Tietjens had assumed the mask of his indolent, insolent self. At the office, but later, he had delivered an extraordinarily forceful--and quite rude--lecture to Sir Reginald on his reasons for differing from the official figures of population movement in the western territories. Sir Reginald had been much impressed. The figures were wanted for a speech of the Colonial Minister--or an answer to a question--and Sir Reginald had promised to put Tietjens' views before the great man. That was the sort of thing to do a young fellow good--because it got kudos for the office. They had to work on figures provided by the Colonial Government, and if they could correct those fellows by sheer brain work--that scored.
But there sat Tietjens, in his grey tweeds, his legs apart, lumpish, clumsy, his tallowy, intelligent-looking hands drooping inert between his legs, his eyes gazing at a coloured photograph of the port of Boulogne beside the mirror beneath the luggage rack. Blond, high-coloured, vacant apparently, you couldn't tell what in the world he was thinking of. The mathematical theory of waves, very likely, or slips in someone's article on Arminianism. For absurd as it seemed, Macmaster knew that he knew next to nothing of his friend's feelings. As to them, practically no confidences had passed between them. Just two:
On the night before his starting for his wedding in Paris Tietjens had said to him:
'Vinny, old fellow, it's a back door way out of it. She's bitched me.'
And once, rather lately, he had said:
'Damn it I I don't even know if the child's my own!'
This last confidence had shocked Macmaster so irremediably--the child had been a seven months' child, rather ailing, and Tietjens' clumsy tenderness towards it had been so marked that, even without this nightmare, Macmaster had been affected by the sight of them together--that confidence then had pained Macmaster so frightfully, it was so appalling, that Macmaster had regarded it almost as an insult. It was the sort of confidence a man didn't make to his equal, but only to solicitors, doctors, or the clergy who are not quite men. Or, at any rate, such confidences are not made between men without appeals for sympathy, and Tietjens had made no appeal for sympathy He had just added sardonically:
'She gives me the benefit of the agreeable doubt. And she's as good as said as much to Marchant'--Marchant had been Tietjens' old nurse.
Suddenly--and as if in a sort of unconscious losing of his head--Macmaster remarked:
'You can't say the man wasn't a poet!'
The remark had been, as it were, torn from him, because he had observed, in the strong light of the compartment, that half of Tietjens' forelock and a roundish patch behind it was silvery white. That might have been going on for weeks: you live beside a man and notice his changes very little. Yorkshire men of fresh colour and blondish hair often go speckled with white very young; Tietjens had had a white hair or two at the age of fourteen, very noticeable in the sunlight when he had taken his cap off to bowl.
But Macmaster's mind, taking appalled charge, had felt assured that Tietjens had gone white with the shock of his wife's letter: in four hours! That meant that terrible things must be going on within him; his thoughts, at all costs, must be distracted. The mental process in Macmaster had been quite unconscious. He would not, advisedly, have introduced the painter-poet as a topic.
'I haven't said anything at all that I can remember.' The obstinacy of his hard race awakened in Macmaster:
'"Since",' he quoted,
"when we stand side by side
Only hands may meet,
Better half this weary world
Lay between us, sweet!
Better far tho' hearts may break
Bid farewell for aye!
Lest thy sad eyes, meeting mine,
Tempt my soul away!"
'You can't,' he continued, 'say that that isn't poetry Great poetry.'
'I can't say,' Tietjens answered contemptuously. 'I don't read poetry except Byron. But it's a filthy picture...'
Macmaster said uncertainly:
'I don't know that I know the picture. Is it in Chicago?' 'It isn't painted!' Tietjens said. 'But it's there!' He continued with sudden fury:
'Damn it. What's the sense of all these attempts to justify fornication? England's mad about it. Well, you've got your John Stuart Mills and your George Eliots for the high-class thing. Leave the furniture out! Or leave me out at least. I tell you it revolts me to think of that obese, oily man who never took a bath, in a grease-spotted dressing-gown and the underclothes he's slept in, standing beside a five-shilling model with crimped hair, or some Mrs. W. Three Stars, gazing into a mirror that reflects their fetid selves and gilt sunfish and drop chandeliers and plates sickening with cold bacon fat and gurgling about passion.'
Macmaster had gone chalk white, his short beard bristling:
'You daren't...you daren't talk like that,' he stuttered.
'I dare!' Tietjens answered; 'but I oughtn't to...to you! I admit that. But you oughtn't, almost as much, to talk about that stuff to me, either. It's an insult to my intelligence.'
'Certainly,' Macmaster said stiffly, 'the moment was not opportune.'
'I don't understand what you mean,' Tietjens answered. The moment can never be opportune. Let's agree that making a career is a dirty business--for me as for you! But decent augurs grin behind their masks. They never preach to each other.'
'You're getting esoteric,' Macmaster said faintly.
'I'll underline,' Tietjens went on. 'I quite understand that the favour of Mrs Cressy and Mrs de Limoux is essential to you! They have the ear of that old don Ingleby.'
'I quite agree,' Tietjens continued, 'I quite approve. It's the game as it has always been played. It's the tradition, so it's right. It's been sanctioned since the days of the Précieuses Ridicules.'
'You've a way of putting things,' Macmaster said.
'I haven't,' Tietjens answered. 'It's just because I haven't that what I do say sticks out in the minds of fellows like you who are always fiddling about after literary expression. But what I do say is this: I stand for monogamy.'
Macmaster uttered a 'You!' of amazement.
Tietjens answered with a negligent 'I!' He continued:
'I stand for monogamy and chastity. And for no talking about it. Of course, if a man who's a man wants to have a woman, he has her. And again, no talking about it. He'd no doubt be in the end better, and better off, if he didn't. Just as it would probably be better for him if he didn't have the second glass of whisky and soda...'
'You call that monogamy and chastity!' Macmaster interjected.
'I do,' Tietjens answered, 'and it probably is, at any rate it's clean. What is loathsome is all your fumbling in placketholes and polysyllabic Justification by Love. You stand for lachrymose polygamy. That's all right if you can get your club to change its rules.'
'You're out of my depth,' Macmaster said. 'And being very disagreeable. You appear to be justifying promiscuity. I don't like it.'
'I'm probably being disagreeable,' Tietjens said. 'Jeremiahs usually are. But there ought to be a twenty years' close time for discussions of sham sexual morality. Your Paolo and Francesca--and Dante's--went, very properly to Hell, and no bones about it. You don't get Dante justifying them. But your fellow whines about creeping into Heaven.'
'He doesn't!' Macmaster exclaimed. Tietjens continued with equanimity:
'Now your novelist who writes a book to justify his every tenth or fifth seduction of a commonplace young woman in the name of the rights of shop boys...'
'I'll admit,' Macmaster coincided, 'that Briggs is going too far. I told him only last Thursday at Mrs Limoux's...'
'I'm not talking of anyone in particular,' Tietjens said. 'I don't read novels. I'm supposing a case. And it's a cleaner case than that of your Pre-Raphaelite horrors! No! I don't read novels, but I follow tendencies. And if a fellow chooses to justify his seductions of uninteresting and viewy young females along the lines of freedom and the rights of man, it's relatively respectable. It would, be better just to boast about his conquests in a straightforward and exultant way. But...'
'You carry joking too far sometimes,' Macmaster said. 'I've warned you about it.'
'I'm as solemn as an owl!' Tietjens rejoined. 'The lower classes are becoming vocal. Why shouldn't they? They're the only people in this country who are sound in wind and limb. They'll save the country if the country's to be saved.'
'And you call yourself a Tory!' Macmaster said.
'The lower classes,' Tietjens continued equably, 'such of them as get through the secondary schools, want irregular and very transitory unions. During holidays they go together on personally conducted tours to Switzerland and such places. Wet afternoons they pass in their tiled bathrooms, slapping each other hilariously on the back and splashing white enamel paint about.'
'You say you don't read novels,' Macmaster said, 'but I recognize the quotation.'
'I don't read novels,' Tietjens answered. 'I know what's in 'em. There has been nothing worth reading written in England since the eighteenth century except by a woman...But it's natural for your enamel splashers to want to see themselves in a bright and variegated literature. Why shouldn't they? It's a healthy, human desire, and now that printing and paper are cheap they get it satisfied. It's healthy, I tell you. Infinitely healthier than...' He paused.
'Than what?' Macmaster asked.
'I'm thinking,' Tietjens said, 'thinking how not to be too rude.'
'You want to be rude,' Macmaster said bitterly, 'to people who lead the contemplative...the circumspect life.'
'It's precisely that,' Tietjens said. He quoted.
'"She walks, the lady of my delight,
A shepherdess of sheep;
She is so circumspect and right:
She has her thoughts to keep."'
'Confound you, Chrissie. You know everything.'
'Well, yes,' Tietjens said musingly, 'I think I should want to be rude to her. I don't say I should be. Certainly I shouldn't if she were good looking. Or if she were your soul's dimity. You can rely on that.'
Macmaster had a sudden vision of Tietjens' large and clumsy form walking beside the lady of his, Macmaster's, delight, when ultimately she was found--walking along the top of a cliff amongst tall grass and poppies and making himself extremely agreeable with talk of Tasso and Cimabue. All the same, Macmaster imagined, the lady wouldn't like Tietjens. Women didn't, as a rule. His looks and his silences alarmed them. Or they hated him...Or they liked him very much indeed. And Macmaster said conciliatorily:
'Yes, I think I could rely on that!' He added: 'All the same I don't wonder that...'
He had been about to say:
'I don't wonder that Sylvia calls you immoral.' For Tietjens' wife alleged that Tietjens was detestable. He bored her, she said, by his silences; when he did speak she hated him for the immorality of his views...But he did not finish his sentence, and Tietjens went on:
'All the same, when the war comes it will be these little snobs who will save England, because they've the courage to know what they want and to say so.'
Macmaster said loftily:
'You're extraordinarily old-fashioned at times, Chrissie. You ought to know as well as I do that a war is impossible--at any rate with this country in it. Simply because...' He hesitated and then emboldened himself: 'We--the circumspect--yes, the circumspect classes, will pilot the nation through the tight places.'
'War, my good fellow,' Tietjens said--the train was slowing down preparatorily to running into Ashford--'is inevitable, and with this country plumb centre in the middle of it. Simply because you fellows are such damn hypocrites. There's not a country in the world that trusts us. We're always, as it were, committing adultery--like your fellow!--with the name of Heaven on our lips.' He was jibing again at the subject of Macmaster's monograph.
'He never!' Macmaster said in almost a stutter. 'He never whined about Heaven.'
'He did,' Tietjens said. 'The beastly poem you quoted ends:
"Better far though hearts may break,
Since we dare not love,
Part till we once more may meet
In a Heaven above."'
And Macmaster, who had been dreading that shot--for he never knew how much or how little of any given poem his friend would have by heart--Macmaster collapsed, as it were, into fussily getting down his dressing-cases and clubs from the rack, a task he usually left to a porter. Tietjens who, however much a train might be running into a station he was bound for, sat like a rock until it was dead-still, said:
'Yes, a war is inevitable. Firstly, there's you fellows who can't be trusted. And then there's the multitude who mean to have bathrooms and white enamel. Millions of them; all over the world. Not merely here. And there aren't enough bathrooms and white enamel in the world to go round. It's like you polygamists with women. There aren't enough women in the world to go round to satisfy your insatiable appetites. And there aren't enough men in the world to give each woman one. And most women want several. So you have divorce cases. I suppose you won't say that because you're so circumspect and right there shall be no more divorce? Well, war is as inevitable as divorce...'
Macmaster had his head out of the carriage window and was calling for a porter.
On the platform a number of women in lovely sable cloaks, with purple or red jewel cases, with diaphanous silky scarves flying from motor hoods, were drifting towards the branch train for Rye, under 'the shepherding of erect, burdened footmen. Two of them nodded to Tietjens.
Macmaster considered that he was perfectly right to be tidy in his dress; you never knew whom you mightn't meet on a railway journey. This confirmed him as against Tietjens, who preferred to look like a navvy.
A tall, white-haired, white-moustached, red-cheeked fellow limped after Tietjens, who was getting his immense bag out of the guard's van. He clapped the young man on the shoulder and said:
'Hullo! How's your mother-in-law? Lady Claude wants to know. She says come up and pick a bone tonight if you're going to Rye.' He had extraordinarily blue, innocent eyes.
'Hullo, General,' and added: 'I believe she's much better. Quite restored. This is Macmaster. I think I shall be going over to bring my wife back in a day or two. They're both at Lobscheid...a German spa.'
The General said:
'Quite right. It isn't good for a young man to be alone. Kiss Sylvia's finger-tips for me. She's the real thing, you lucky beggar.' He added, a little anxiously: 'What about a foursome to-morrow? Paul Sandbach is down. He's as crooked as me. We can't do a full round at singles.'
'It's your own fault,' Tietjens said. 'You ought to have gone to my bone-setter. Settle it with Macmaster, will you?' He jumped into the twilight of the guard's van.
The General looked at Macmaster, a quick penetrating scrutiny:
'You're the Macmaster,' he said. 'You would be if you're with Chrissie.'
A high voice called:
'I want a word with you,' the General said, 'about the figures in that article you wrote about Pondoland. Figures are all right. But we shall lose the beastly country if...But we'll talk about it after dinner to-night. You'll come up to Lady Claudine's...?
Macmaster congratulated himself again on his appearance. It was all very well for Tietjens to look like a sweep; he was of these people. He, Macmaster, wasn't. He had, if anything, to be an authority, and authorities wear gold tie-rings and broadcloth. General Lord Edward Campion had a son, a permanent head of the Treasury department that regulated increases of salaries and promotions in all the public offices. Tietjens only caught the Rye train by running alongside it, pitching his enormous kit-bag through the carriage window and swinging on the footboard. Macmaster reflected that if he had done that half the' station would have been yelling, 'Stand away there.'
As it was Tietjens a stationmaster was galloping after him to open the carriage door and grinningly to part:
'Well caught, sir!' for it was a cricketing county.
'Truly,' Macmaster quoted to himself.
'"The gods to each ascribe a differing lot:
Some enter at the portal. Some do not!"'
Mrs Satterthwaite with her French maid, her priest, and her disreputable young man, Mr Bayliss, were at Lobscheid, an unknown and little-frequented air resort amongst the pinewoods of the Taunus. Mrs Satterthwaite was ultrafashionable and consummately indifferent--she only really lost her temper if at her table and under her nose you consumed her famous Black Hamburg grapes without taking their skin and all. Father Consett was out to have an uproarious good time during his three weeks' holiday from the slums of Liverpool; Mr Bayliss, thin like a skeleton in tight blue serge, golden haired and pink, was so nearly dead of tuberculosis, was so dead penniless, and of tastes so costly that he was ready to keep stone quiet, drink six pints of milk a day and behave himself. On the face of it, he was there to write the letters of Mrs Satterthwaite, but the lady never let him enter her private rooms for fear of infection. He had to content himself with nursing a growing adoration for Father Consett. This priest, with an enormous mouth, high cheek bones, untidy black hair, a broad face that never looked too clean and waving hands that always looked too dirty, never kept still for a moment, and had a brogue such as is seldom heard outside old-fashioned English novels of Irish life. He had a perpetual laugh, like the noise made by a steam round-about. He was, in short, a saint, and Mr Bayliss knew it, though he didn't know how. Ultimately, and with the financial assistance of Mrs Satterthwaite, Mr Bayliss became almoner to Father Consett, adopted the rule of St. Vincent de Paul and wrote some very admirable, if decorative, devotional verse.
They proved thus a very happy, innocent party. For Mrs Satterthwaite interested herself--it was the only interest she had--in handsome, thin and horribly disreputable young men. She would wait for them, or send her car to wait for them, at the gaol gates. She would bring their usually admirable wardrobes up to date and give them enough money to have a good time. When contrary to all expectations--but it happened more often than not!--they turned out well, she was lazily pleased. Sometimes she sent them away to a gay spot with a priest who needed a holiday; sometimes she had them down to her place in the west of England.
So they were a pleasant company and all very happy. Lobscheid contained one empty hotel with large verandahs and several square farmhouses, white with grey beams, painted in the gables with bouquets of blue and yellow flowers or with scarlet huntsmen shooting at purple stags. They were like gay cardboard boxes set down in fields of long grass; then the pinewoods commenced and ran, solemn, brown and geometric for miles up and down hill. The peasant girls wore black velvet waistcoats, white bodices, innumerable petticoats and absurd parti-coloured headdresses of the shape and size of halfpenny buns. They walked about in rows of four to six abreast; with a slow step, protruding white-stockinged feet in dancing pumps, their headdresses nodding solemnly; young men in blue blouses, knee-breeches and, on Sundays, in three-cornered hats, followed behind singing part-songs.
The French maid--whom Mrs Satterthwaite had borrowed from the Duchesse de Carbon Château-Herault in exchange for her own maid--was at first inclined to find the place maussade. But getting up a tremendous love affair with a fine, tall, blond young fellow, who included a gun, a gold-mounted hunting knife as long as his arm, a light, grey-green uniform, with gilt badges and buttons, she was reconciled to her lot. When the young Förster tried to shoot her--'et pour cause,' as she said--she was ravished and Mrs Satterthwaite lazily amused.
They were sitting playing bridge in the large, shadowy dining-hall of the hotel: Mrs Satterthwaite, Father Consett, Mr Bayliss. A young blond sub-lieutenant of great obsequiousness who was there as a last chance for his right lung and his career, and the bearded Kur-doctor cut in. Father Consett, breathing heavily and looking frequently at his watch, played very fast, exclaiming: 'Hurry up now; it's nearly twelve. Hurry up wid ye.' Mr Bayliss being dummy, the Father exclaimed: 'Three no trumps; I've to make. Get me a whisky and soda quick, and don't drown it as ye did the last.' He played his hand with extreme rapidity, threw down his last three cards, exclaimed: 'Ach! Botheranouns an' all; I'm two down and I've revoked on the top av it,' swallowed down his whisky and soda, looked at his watch and exclaimed: 'Done it to the minute! Here, doctor, take my hand and finish the rubber.' He was to take the mass next day for the local priest, and mass must be said fasting from midnight, and without cards played. Bridge was his only passion; a fortnight every year was what, in his worn-out life, he got of it. On his holiday he rose at ten. At eleven it was: 'A four for the Father.' From two to four they walked in the forest. At five it was: 'A four for the Father.' At nine it was: 'Father, aren't you coming to your bridge?' And Father Consett grinned all over his face and said: 'It's good ye are to a poor ould soggart. It will be paid back to you in Heaven.'
The other four played on solemnly. The Father sat himself down behind Mrs Satterthwaite, his chin in the nape of her neck. At excruciating moments he gripped her shoulders, exclaimed: 'Play the queen, woman!' and breathed hard down her back. Mrs Satterthwaite would play the two of diamonds, and the Father, throwing himself back, would groan. She said over her shoulder:
'I want to talk to you to-night, Father,' took the last trick of the rubber, collected 17 marks 50 from the doctor and 8 marks from the unter-leutnant. The doctor exclaimed:
'You gan't dake that immense sum from us and then ko off. Now we shall pe ropped py Herr Payliss at gutt-throat.'
She drifted, all shadowy black silk, across the shadows of the dining-hall, dropping her winnings into her black satin vanity bag and attended by the priest. Outside the door, beneath the antlers of a royal stag, in an atmosphere of paraffin lamps and varnished pitch-pine, she said:
'Come up to my sitting-room. The prodigal's returned. Sylvia's here.'
The Father said:
'I thought I saw her out of the corner of my eye in the bus after dinner. She'll be going back to her husband. It's a poor world.'
'She's a wicked devil!' Mrs Satterthwaite said.
'I've known her myself since she was nine,' Father Consett said, 'and it's little I've seen in her to hold up to the commendation of my flock.' He added: 'But maybe I'm made unjust by the shock of it.'
They climbed the stairs slowly.
Mrs Satterthwaite sat herself on the edge of a cane chair. She said:
She wore a black hat like a cart-wheel and her dresses appeared always to consist of a great many squares of silk that might have been thrown on to her. Since she considered that her complexion, which was matt white, had gone slightly violet from twenty years of make-up, when she was not made-up--as she never was at Lobscheid--she wore bits of puce-coloured satin ribbon stuck here and there, partly to counteract the violet of her complexion, partly to show she was not in mourning. She was very tall and extremely emaciated; her dark eyes that had beneath them dark brown thumb-marks were very tired or very indifferent by turns.
Father Consett walked backwards and forwards, his hands behind his back, his head bent, over the not too well-polished floor. There were two candles, lit but dim, in imitation pewter nouvel art candlesticks, rather dingy; a sofa of cheap mahogany with red plush cushions and rests, a table covered with a cheap carpet, and an American roll-top desk that had thrown into it a great many papers in scrolls or flat. Mrs Satterthwaite was extremely indifferent to her surroundings, but she insisted on having a piece of furniture for her papers. She liked also to have a profusion of hot-house, not garden, flowers, but as there were none of these at Lobscheid she did without them. She insisted also, as a rule, on a comfortable chaise longue which she rarely, if ever, used; but the German Empire of those days did not contain a comfortable chair, so she did without it, lying down on her bed when she was really tired. The walls of the large room were completely covered with pictures of animals in death agonies: capercailzies giving up the ghost with gouts of scarlet blood on the snow; deer dying with their heads back and eyes glazing, gouts of red blood on their necks; foxes dying with scarlet blood on green grass. These pictures were frame to frame, representing sport, the hotel having been a former Grand Ducal hunting-box, freshened to suit the taste of the day with varnished pitch-pine, bath-rooms, verandahs, and excessively modern but noisy lavatory arrangements which had been put in for the delight of possible English guests.
Mrs Satterthwaite sat on the edge of her chair; she had always the air of being just about to go out somewhere or of having just come in and being on the point of going to take her things off. She said:
'There's been a telegram waiting for her all the afternoon. I knew she was coming.'
Father Consett said:
'I saw it in the rack myself. I misdoubted it.' He added: 'Oh dear, oh dear! After all we've talked about it; now it's come.'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'I've been a wicked woman myself as these things are measured; but...
Father Consett said:
'Ye have! It's no doubt from you she gets it, for your husband was a good man. But one wicked woman is enough for my contemplation at a time. I'm no St Anthony...The young man says he will take her back?'
'On conditions,' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'He is coming here to have an interview.'
The priest said:
'Heaven knows, Mrs Satterthwaite, there are times when to a poor priest the rule of the Church as regards marriage seems bitter hard and he almost doubts her inscrutable wisdom. He doesn't mind you. But at times I wish that that young man would take what advantage--it's all there is!--that he can of being a Protestant and divorce Sylvia. For I tell you there are bitter things to see amongst my flock over there...' He made a vague gesture towards the infinite...'And bitter things I've seen, for the heart of man is a wicked place. But never a bitterer than this young man's lot.'
'As you say,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'my husband was a good man. I hated him, but that was as much my fault as his. More! And the only reason I don't wish Christopher to divorce Sylvia is that it would bring disgrace on my husband's name. At the same time, Father...'
The priest said:
'I've heard near enough.'
'There's this to be said for Sylvia,' Mrs Satterthwaite went on. 'There are times when a woman hates a man--as Sylvia hates her husband...I tell you I've walked behind a man's back and nearly screamed because of the desire to put my nails into the veins of his neck. It was a fascination. And it's worse with Sylvia. It's a natural antipathy.'
'Woman!' Father Consett fulminated, 'I've no patience wid ye! If the woman, as the Church directs, would have children by her husband and live decent, she would have no such feelings. It's unnatural living and unnatural practices that cause these complexes. Don't think I'm an ignoramus, priest if I am.'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'But Sylvia's had a child.'
Father Consett swung round like a man that has been shot at.
'Whose?' he asked, and he pointed a dirty finger at his interlocutress. 'It was that blackguard Drake's, wasn't it? I've long suspected that.'
'It was probably Drake's,' Mrs Satterthwaite said.
'Then,' the priest said, 'in the face of the pains of the hereafter how could you let that decent lad in the hotness of his sin...?'
'Indeed,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'I shiver sometimes when I think of it. Don't believe that I had anything to do with trepanning him. But I couldn't hinder it. Sylvia's my daughter, and dog doesn't eat dog.'
'There are times when it should,' Father Consett said contemptuously.
'You don't seriously,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'say that I, a mother, if an indifferent one, with my daughter appearing in trouble, as the kitchenmaids say, by a married man--that I should step in and stop a marriage that was a Godsend...'
'Don't,' the priest said, 'introduce the sacred name into an affair of Piccadilly bad girls...' He stopped. 'Heaven help me,' he said again, 'don't ask me to answer the question of what you should or shouldn't have done. You know I loved your husband like a brother, and you know I've loved you and Sylvia ever since she was tiny. And I thank God that I am not your spiritual adviser, but only your friend in God. For if I had to answer your question I could answer it only in one way.' He broke off to ask: 'Where is that woman?'
Mrs Satterthwaite called:
'Sylvia! Sylvia! Come here!'
A door in the shadows opened and light shone from another room behind a tall figure leaning one hand on the handle of the door. A very deep voice said:
'I can't understand, mother, why you live in rooms like a sergeants' mess.' And Sylvia Tietjens wavered into the room. She added: 'I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm bored.'
Father Consett groaned:
'Heaven help us, she's like a picture of Our Lady by Fra Angelico.'
Immensely tall, slight and slow in her movements, Sylvia Tietjens wore her reddish, very fair hair in great bandeaux right down over her ears. Her very oval, regular face had an expression of virginal lack of interest such as used to be worn by fashionable Paris courtesans a decade before that time. Sylvia Tietjens considered that, being privileged to go everywhere where one went and to have all men at her feet, she had no need to change her expression or to infuse into it the greater animation that marked the more common beauties of the early twentieth century. She moved slowly from the door and sat languidly on the sofa against the wall.
'There you are, Father,' she said. 'I'll not ask you to shake hands with me. You probably wouldn't.'
'As I am a priest,' Father Consett answered. 'I could not refuse. But I'd rather not.'
'This,' Sylvia repeated, 'appears to be a boring place.'
'You won't say so to-morrow,' the priest said. 'There's two young fellows...And a sort of policeman to trepan away from your mother's maid!'
'That,' Sylvia answered, 'is meant to be bitter. But it doesn't hurt. I am done with men.' She added suddenly: 'Mother, didn't you one day, while you were still young, say that you had done with men? Firmly! And mean it?'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'And did you keep to it?' Sylvia asked.
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'And shall I, do you imagine?'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'I imagine you will.'
The priest said:
'I'd be willing to see your husband's telegram. It makes a difference to see the words on paper.'
Sylvia rose effortlessly.
'I don't see why you shouldn't,' she said. 'It will give you no pleasure.' She drifted towards the door.
'If it would give me pleasure,' the priest said, 'you would not show it me.'
'I would not,' she said.
A silhouette in the doorway, she halted, drooping, and looked over her shoulder.
'Both you and mother,' she said, 'sit there scheming to make life bearable for the Ox. I call my husband the Ox. He's repulsive: like a swollen animal. Well...you can't do it.' The lighted doorway was vacant. Father Consett sighed.
'I told you this was an evil place,' he said. 'In the deep forests. She'd not have such evil thoughts in another place.' Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'I'd rather you didn't say that, Father. Sylvia would have evil thoughts in any place.'
'Sometimes,' the priest said, 'at night I think I hear the claws of evil things scratching on the shutters. This was the last place in Europe to be Christianised. Perhaps it wasn't ever even Christianised and they're here yet.'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'It's all very well to talk like that in the day-time. It makes the place seem romantic. But it must be near one at night. And things are bad enough as it is.'
'They are,' Father Consett said. 'The devil's at work.'
Sylvia drifted back into the room with a telegram of several sheets. Father Consett held it close to one of the candles to read, for he was short-sighted.
'All men are repulsive,' Sylvia said; 'don't you think so, mother?'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'I do not. Only a heartless woman would say so.'
'Mrs Vanderdecken,' Sylvia went on, 'says all men are repulsive and it's woman's disgusting task to live beside them.'
'You've been seeing that foul creature?' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'She's a Russian agent. And worse!'
'She was at Gosingeaux all the time we were,' Sylvia said. 'You needn't groan. She won't split on us. She's the soul of honour.'
'It wasn't because of that I groaned, if I did,' Mrs Satterthwaite answered.
The priest, from over his telegram, exclaimed: 'Mrs Vanderdecken! God forbid.'
Sylvia's face, as she sat on the sofa, expressed languid and incredulous amusement.
'What do you know of her?' she asked the Father.
'I know what you know,' he answered, 'and that's enough.'
'Father Consett,' Sylvia said to her mother, 'has been renewing his social circle.'
'It's not,' Father Consett said, 'amongst the dregs of the people that you must live if you don't want to hear of the dregs of society.'
Sylvia stood up. She said:
'You'll keep your tongue off my best friends if you want me to stop and be lectured. But for Mrs. Vanderdecken I should not be here, returned to the fold!'
Father Consett exclaimed:
'Don't say it, child. I'd rather, heaven help me, you had gone on living in open sin.'
Sylvia sat down again, her hands listlessly in her lap. 'Have it your own way,' she said, and the Father returned to the fourth sheet of the telegram.
'What does this mean?' he asked. He had returned to the first sheet. 'This here: "Accept resumption yoke"?' he read, breathlessly.
'Sylvia,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'go and light the spirit lamp for some tea. We shall want it.'
'You'd think I was a district messenger boy,' Sylvia said as she rose. 'Why don't you keep your maid up?...It's a way we had of referring to our...union,' she explained to the Father.
'There was sympathy enough between you and him then,' he said, 'to have bywords for things. It was that I wanted to know. I understood the words.'
'They were pretty bitter bywords, as you call them,' Sylvia said. 'More like curses than kisses.'
'It was you that used them then,' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'Christopher never said a bitter thing to you.'
An expression like a grin came slowly over Sylvia's face as she turned back to the priest.
'That's mother's tragedy,' she said. 'My husband's one of her best boys. She adores him. And he can't bear her.' She drifted behind the wall of the next room and they heard her tinkling the tea-things as the Father read on again beside the candle. His immense shadow began at the centre and ran along the pitch-pine ceiling, down the wall and across the floor to join his splay feet in their clumsy boots.
'It's bad,' he muttered. He made a sound like 'Umbleumbleumble...Worse than I feared...umbleumble..."accept resumption yoke but on rigid conditions." What's this: esoecially; it ought to be a "p," "especially regards child reduce establishment ridiculous our position remake settlements in child's sole interests flat not house entertaining minimum am prepared resign office settle Yorkshire but imagine this not suit you child remain sister Effie open visits both wire if this rough outline provisionally acceptable in that case will express draft general position Monday for you and mother reflect upon follow self Tuesday arrive Thursday Lobscheid go Wiesbaden fortnight on social task discussion Thursday limited solely, comma emphasized comma to affairs."'
'That means,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'that he doesn't mean to reproach her. Emphasized applies to the word solely...!'
'Why d'you take it...' Father Consett asked, 'did he spend an immense lot of money on this telegram? Did he imagine you were in such trepidation...?' He broke off. Walking slowly, her long arms extended to carry the tea-tray, over which her wonderfully moving face had a rapt expression of indescribable mystery, Sylvia was coming through the door.
'Oh, child,' the Father exclaimed, 'whether it's St Martha or that Mary that made the bitter choice, not one of them ever looked more virtuous than you. Why aren't ye born to be a good man's help-meet?'
A little tinkle sounded from the tea-tray and three pieces of sugar fell on to the floor. Mrs Tietjens hissed with vexation.
'I knew that damned thing would slide off the teacups,' she said. She dropped the tray from an inch or so of height on to the carpeted table. 'I'd made it a matter of luck between myself and myself,' she said. Then she faced the priest.
'I'll tell you,' she said, 'why he sent the telegram. It's because of that dull display of the English gentleman that I detested. He gives himself the solemn airs of the Foreign Minister, but he's only a youngest son at the best. That is why I loathe him.'
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'That isn't the reason why he sent the telegram.'
Her daughter had a gesture of amused, lazy tolerance.
'Of course it isn't,' she said. 'He sent it out of consideration: the lordly, full-dress consideration that drives me distracted. As he would say: "He'd imagine I'd find it convenient to have ample time for reflection." It's like being addressed as if one were a monument and by a herald according to protocol. And partly because he's the soul of truth like a stiff Dutch doll. He wouldn't write a letter because he couldn't without beginning it "Dear Sylvia" and ending it "Yours sincerely" or "truly" or "affectionately."...He's that sort of precise imbecile. I tell you he's so formal he can't do without all the conventions there are and so truthful he can't use half of them.'
'Then,' Father Consett said, 'if ye know him so well, Sylvia Satterthwaite, how is it ye can't get on with him better? They say: Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner.'
'It isn't,' Sylvia said. 'To know everything about a person is to be bored...bored...bored!'
'And how are you going to answer this telegram of his?' the Father asked. 'Or have ye answered it already?'
'I shall wait until Monday night to keep him as bothered as I can to know whether he's to start on Tuesday. He fusses like a hen over his packings and the exact hours of his movements.' On Monday I shall telegraph: "Righto" and nothing else.'
'And why,' the Father asked, 'will ye telegraph him a vulgar word that you never use, for your language is the one thing about you that isn't vulgar?'
'Thanks!' She curled her legs up under her on the sofa and laid her head back against the wall so that her Gothic arch of a chinbone pointed at the ceiling. She admired her own neck, which was very long and white.
'I know!' Father Consett said. 'You're a beautiful woman. Some men would say it was a lucky fellow that lived with you. I don't ignore the fact in my cogitation. He'd imagine all sorts of delights to lurk in the shadow of your beautiful hair. And they wouldn't.'
Sylvia brought her gaze down from the ceiling and fixed her brown eyes for a moment on the priest, speculatively.
'It's a great handicap we suffer from,' he said.
'I don't know why I selected that word,' Sylvia said, 'it's one word, so it costs only fifty pfennigs. I couldn't hope really to give a jerk to his pompous self-sufficiency.'
'It's great handicaps we priests suffer from,' the Father repeated. 'However much a priest may be a man of the world--and he has to be to fight the world...
Mrs Satterthwaite said:
'Have a cup of tea, Father, while it's just right. I believe Sylvia is the only person in Germany who knows how to make tea.'
'There's always behind him the Roman collar and the silk bib, and you don't believe in him,' Father Consett went on, 'yet he knows ten--a thousand times!--more of human nature than ever you can.'
'I don't see,' Sylvia said placably, 'how you can learn in your slums anything about the nature of Eunice Vanderdecken, or Elizabeth B. or Queenie James, or any of my set.' She was on her feet pouring cream into the Father's tea. 'I'll admit for the moment that you aren't giving me pi-jaw.'
'I'm glad,' the priest said, 'that ye remember enough of yer schooldays to use the old term.'
Sylvia wavered backwards to her sofa and sank down again.
'There you are,' she said, 'you can't really get away from preachments. Me for the pyore young girl is always at the back of it.'
'It isn't,' the Father said. 'I'm not one to cry for the moon.'
'You don't want me to be a pure young girl,' Sylvia asked with lazy incredulity.
'I do not!' the Father said, 'but I'd wish that at times ye'd remember you once were.'
'I don't believe I ever was,' Sylvia said, if the nuns had known I'd have been expelled from the Holy Child.'
'You would not,' the Father said. 'Do stop your boasting. The nuns have too much sense...Anyhow, it isn't a pure young girl I'd have you or behaving like a Protestant deaconess for the craven fear of hell. I'd have ye be a physically healthy, decently honest-with-yourself young devil of a married woman. It's them that are the plague and the salvation of the world.'
'You admire mother?' Mrs. Tietjens asked suddenly. She added in parenthesis: 'You see you can't get away from salvation.'
'I mean keeping bread and butter in their husbands' stomachs,' the priest said. 'Of course I admire your mother.'
Mrs Satterthwaite moved a hand slightly.
'You're at any rate in league with her against me,' Sylvia said. She asked with more interest: 'Then would you have me model myself on her and do good works to escape hell fire? She wears a hair shirt in Lent.'
Mrs Satterthwaite started from her doze on the edge of her chair. She had been trusting the Father's wit to give her daughter's insolence a run for its money, and she imagined that if the priest hit hard enough he might, at least, make Sylvia think a little about some of her ways.
'Hang it, no, Sylvia,' she exclaimed more suddenly. 'I may not be much, but I'm a sportsman. I'm afraid of hellfire; horribly, I'll admit. But I don't bargain with the Almighty. I hope He'll let me through; but I'd go on trying to pick men out of the dirt--I suppose that's what you and Father Consett mean--if I were as certain of going to hell as I am of going to bed to-night. So that's that!'
'"And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!"' Sylvia jeered softly. 'All the same I bet you wouldn't bother to reclaim men if you could not find the young, good-looking, interestingly vicious sort.'
'I wouldn't,' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'If they didn't interest me, why should I?'
Sylvia looked at Father Consett.
'If you're going to trounce me any more,' she said, 'get a move on. It's late, I've been travelling for thirty-six hours.'
'I will,' Father Consett said. 'It's a good maxim that if you swat flies enough some of them stick to the wall. I'm only trying to make a little mark on your common sense. Don't you see what you're going to?'
'What?' Sylvia said indifferently. 'Hell?'
'No,' the Father said, 'I'm talking of this life. Your confessor must talk to you about the next. But I'll not tell you what you're going to. I've changed my mind. I'll tell your mother after you're gone.'
'Tell me,' Sylvia said.
'I'll not,' Father Consett answered. 'Go to the fortunetellers at the Earl's Court exhibition; they'll tell ye all about the fair woman you're to beware of.'
'There's some of them said to be rather good,' Sylvia said. 'Di Wilson's told me about one. She said she was going to have a baby...You don't mean that, Father? For I swear I never will...'
'I daresay not,' the priest said. 'But let's talk about men.' 'There's nothing you can tell me I don't know,' Sylvia said.
'I daresay not,' the priest answered. 'But let's rehearse what you do know. Now suppose you could elope with a new man every week and no questions asked? Or how often would you want to?'
'Just a moment, Father,' and she addressed Mrs Satterthwaite: 'I suppose I shall have to put myself to bed.'
'You will,' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'I'll not have any maid kept up after ten in a holiday resort. What's she to do in a place like this? Except listen for the bogies it's full of?'
'Always considerate!' Mrs Tietjens gibed. 'And perhaps it's just as well. I'd probably beat that Marie of yours' arms to pieces with a hair-brush if she came near me.' She added: 'You were talking about men, Father...' And then began with sudden animation to her mother:
'I've changed my mind about that telegram. The first thing to-morrow I shall wire: "Agreed entirely but arrange bring Hullo Central with you."'
She addressed the priest again.
'I call my maid Hullo Central because she's got a tinny voice like a telephone. I say: "Hullo Central"--when she answers "Yes, modd'm," you'd swear it was the Exchange speaking...But you were telling me about men.'
'I was reminding you!' the Father said. 'But I needn't go on. You've caught the drift of my remarks. That is why you are pretending not to listen.'
'I assure you, no,' Mrs Tietjens said. 'It is simply that if a thing comes into my head I have to say it...You were saying that if one went away with a different man for every week-end...'
'You've shortened the period already,' the priest said. 'I gave a full week to every man.'
'But, of course, one would have to have a home,' Sylvia said, 'an address. One would have to fill one's mid-week engagements. Really it comes to it that one has to have a husband and a place to store one's maid in. Hullo Central's been on board-wages all the time. But I don't believe she likes it...Let's agree that if I had a different man every week I'd be bored with the arrangement. That's what you're getting at, isn't it?'
'You'd find,' the priest said, 'that it whittled down until the only divvy moment was when you stood waiting in the booking-office for the young man to take the tickets...And then gradually that wouldn't be divvy any more...And you'd yawn and long to go back to your husband.'
'Look here,' Mrs Tietjens said, 'you're abusing the secrets of the confessional. That's exactly what Tottie Charles said. She tried it for three months while Freddie Charles was in Madeira. It's exactly what she said down to the yawn and the booking-office. And the "divvy." It's only Tottie Charles who uses it every two words. Most of us prefer ripping! It is more sensible.'
'Of course I haven't been abusing the secrets of the confessional,' Father Consett said mildly.
'Of course you haven't,' Sylvia said with affection. 'You're a good old stick and no end of a mimic, and you know us all to the bottom of our hearts.'
'Not all that much,' the, priest said, 'there's probably a good deal of good at the bottom of your hearts.' Sylvia said:
'Thanks.' She asked suddenly: 'Look here. Was it what you saw of us--the future mothers of England, you know, and all--at Miss Lampeter's--that made you take to the slums? Out of disgust and despair?'
'Oh, let's not make melodrama out of it,' the priest answered. 'Let's say I wanted a change. I couldn't see that I was doing any good.'
'You did us all the good there was done,' Sylvia said. 'What with Miss Lampeter always drugged to the world, and all the French mistresses as wicked as hell.'
'I've heard you say all this before,' Mrs Satterthwaite said. 'But it was supposed to be the best finishing school in England. I know it cost enough!'
'Well, say it was we who were a rotten lot,' Sylvia concluded; and then to the Father: 'We were a lot of rotters, weren't we?'
The priest answered:
'I don't know. I don't suppose you were--or are--any worse than your mother or grandmother, or the patricianesses of Rome or the worshippers of Ashtaroth. It seems we have to have a governing class and governing classes are subject to special temptations.'
'Who's Ashtaroth?' Sylvia asked. 'Astarte?' and then: 'Now, Father, after your experiences would you say the factory girls of Liverpool, or any other slum, are any better women than us that you used to look after?'
'Astarte Syriaca,' the Father said, 'was a very powerful devil. There's some that hold she's not dead yet. I don't know that I do myself.'
'Well, I've done with her,' Sylvia said.
The Father nodded:
'You've had dealings with Mrs Profumo?' he asked. 'And that loathsome fellow...What's his name?'
'Does it shock you?' Sylvia asked. 'I'll admit it was a bit thick...But I've done with it. I prefer to pin my faith to Mrs Vanderdecken. And, of course, Freud.'
The priest nodded his head and said:
'Of course! Of course...'
But Mrs Satterthwaite exclaimed, with sudden energy:
'Sylvia Tietjens, I don't care what you do or what you read, but if you ever speak another word to that woman, you never do to me!'
Sylvia stretched herself on her sofa. She opened her brown eyes wide and let the lids slowly drop again.
'I've said once,' she said, 'that I don't like to hear my friends miscalled. Eunice Vanderdecken is a bitterly misjudged woman. She's a real good pal.'
'She's a Russian spy,' Mrs Satterthwaite said.
'Russian grandmother,' Sylvia answered. 'And if she is, who cares? She's welcome for me...Listen now, you two. I said to myself when I came in: "I daresay I've given them both a rotten time." I know you're both more nuts on me than I deserve. And I said I'd sit and listen to all the pi-jaw you wanted to give me if I sat till dawn. And I will. As a return. But I'd rather you let my friends alone.'
Both the elder people were silent. There came from the shuttered windows of the dark room a low, scratching rustle.
'You hear!' the priest said to Mrs Satterthwaite. 'It's the branches,' Mrs Satterthwaite answered.
The Father answered: 'There's no tree within ten yards! Try bats as an explanation.'
'I've said I wish you wouldn't, once,' Mrs Satterthwaite shivered. Sylvia said:
'I don't know what you two are talking about. It sounds like superstition. Mother's rotten with it.'
'I don't say that it's devils trying to get in,' the Father said. 'But it's just as well to remember that devils are always trying to get in. And there are especial spots. These deep forests are noted among others.' He suddenly turned his back and pointed at the shadowy wall. 'Who,' he asked, 'but a savage possessed by a devil could have conceived of that as a decoration?' He was pointing to a life-sized, coarsely daubed picture of a wild boar dying, its throat cut, and gouts of scarlet blood. Other agonies of animals went away into all the shadows.
'Sport!' he hissed. 'It's devilry!'
'That's perhaps true,' Sylvia said. Mrs Satterthwaite was crossing herself with great rapidity. The silence remained.
'Then if you're both done talking I'll say what I have to say. To begin with...' She stopped and sat rather erect, listening to the rustling from the shutters.
'To begin with,' she began again with impetus, 'you spared me the catalogue of the defects of age; I know them. One grows skinny--my sort--the complexion fades, the teeth stick out. And then there is the boredom. I know it; one is bored...bored...bored! You can't tell me anything I don't know about that. I'm thirty. I know what to expect. You'd like to have told me, Father, only you were afraid of taking away from your famous man of the world effect--you'd like to have told me that one can insure against the boredom and the long, skinny teeth by love of husband and child. The home stunt! I believe it!
I do quite believe it. Only I hate my husband...and I hate...I hate my child.'
She paused, waiting for exclamations of dismay or disapprobation from the priest. These did not come.
'Think,' she said, 'of all the ruin that child has meant for me; the pain in bearing him and the fear of death.'
'Of course,' the priest said, 'child-bearing is for women a very terrible thing.'
'I can't say,' Mrs Tietjens went on, 'that this has been a very decent conversation. You get a girl...fresh from open sin, and make her talk about it. Of course you're a priest and mother's mother; we're en famille. But Sister Mary of the Cross at the convent had a maxim: "Wear velvet gloves in family life." We seem to be going at it with gloves off.'
Father Consett still didn't say anything.
'You're trying, of course, to draw me,' Sylvia said. 'I can see that with half an eye...Very well then, you shall...'
She drew a breath.
'You want to know why I hate my husband. I'll tell you; it's because of his simple, sheer immorality. I don't mean his actions; his views! Every speech he utters about everything makes me--I swear it makes me--in spite of myself, want to stick a knife into him, and I can't prove he's wrong, not ever, about the simplest thing. But I can pain him. And I will...He sits about in chairs that fit his back, clumsy, like a rock, not moving for hours...And I can make him wince. Oh, without showing it...He's what you call loyal...oh, loyal...There's an absurd little chit of a fellow...oh, Macmaster...and his mother...whom he persists in a silly mystical way in calling a saint...a Protestant saint!...And his old nurse, who looks after the child...and the child itself...I tell you I've only got to raise an eyelid...yes, cock an eyelid up a little when anyone of them is mentioned...and it hurts him dreadfully. His eyes roll in a sort of mute anguish...Of course he doesn't say anything. He's an English country gentleman.'
Father Consett said:
'This immorality you talk about in your husband...I've never noticed it. I saw a good deal of him when I stayed with you for the week before your child was born. I talked with him a great deal. Except in the matter of the two communions--and even in these I don't know that we differed so much--I found him perfectly sound.'
'Sound.' Mrs Satterthwaite said with sudden emphasis; 'of course he's sound. It isn't even the word. He's the best ever. There was your father, for a good man...and him. That's an end of it.'
'Ah,' Sylvia said, 'you don't know...Look here. Try and be just. Suppose I'm looking at The Times at breakfast and say, not having spoken to him for a week: "It's wonderful what the doctors are doing. Have you seen the latest?" And at once he'll be on his high-horse--he knows everything!--and he'll prove...prove...that all unhealthy children must be lethal-chambered or the world will go to pieces. And it's like being hypnotised; you can't think of what to answer him. Or he'll reduce you to speechless rage by proving that murderers ought not to be executed. And then I'll ask, casually, if children ought to be lethal-chambered for being constipated. Because Marchant--that's the nurse--is always whining that the child's bowels aren't regular and the dreadful diseases that leads to. Of course that hurts him. For he's perfectly soppy about that child, though he half knows it isn't his own...But that's what I mean by immorality. He'll profess that murderers ought to be preserved in order to breed from because they're bold fellows, and innocent little children executed because they're sick...And he'll almost make you believe it, though you're on the point of retching at the ideas.'
'You wouldn't now,' Father Consett began, and almost coaxingly, 'think of going into retreat for a month or two.' 'I wouldn't,' Sylvia said. 'How could I?'
'There's a convent of female Premonstratensians near Birkenhead, many ladies go there,' the Father went on. 'They cook very well, and you can have your own furniture and your own maid if ye don't like nuns to wait on you.'
'It can't be done,' Sylvia said, 'you can see for yourself. It would make people smell a rat at once. Christopher wouldn't hear of it...'
'No, I'm afraid it can't be done, Father,' Mrs Satterthwaite interrupted finally. 'I've hidden here for four months to cover Sylvia's tracks. I've got Wateman's to look after. My new land steward's coming in next week.'
'Still,' the Father urged, with a sort of tremulous eagerness, 'if only for a month...If only for a fortnight...So many Catholic ladies do it...Ye might think of it.'
'I see what you're aiming at,' Sylvia said with sudden anger; 'you're revolted at the idea of my going straight from one man's arms to another.'
'I'd be better pleased if there could be an interval,' the Father said. 'It's what's called bad form.'
Sylvia became electrically rigid on her sofa.
'Bad form!' she exclaimed. 'You accuse me of bad form.' The Father slightly bowed his head like a man facing a wind.
'I do,' he said. 'It's disgraceful. It's unnatural. I'd travel a bit at least.'
She placed her hand on her long throat.
'I know what you mean,' she said,' 'you want to spare Christopher...the humiliation. The...the nausea. No doubt he'll feel nauseated. I've reckoned on that. It will give me a little of my own back.'
The Father said:
'That's enough, woman. I'll hear no more.'
'You will then. Listen here...I've always got this to look forward to: I'll settle down by that man's side. I'll be as virtuous as any woman. I've made up my mind to it and I'll be it. And I'll be bored stiff for the rest of my life. Except for one thing. I can torment that man. And I'll do it. Do you understand how I'll do it? There are many ways. But if the worst comes to the worst I can always drive him silly...by corrupting the child!' She was panting a little, and round her brown eyes the whites showed. 'I'll get even with him. I can. I know how, you see. And with you, through him, for tormenting me. I've come all the way from Brittany without stopping. I haven't slept...But I can...'
Father Consett put his hand beneath the tail of his coat.
'Sylvia Tietjens,' he said, 'in my pistol pocket I've a little bottle of holy water which I carry for such occasions. What if I was to throw two drops of it over you and cry: Exorcizo to Ashtaroth in nomine?...
She erected her body above her skirts on the sofa, stiffened like a snake's neck above its coils. Her face was quite pallid, her eyes staring out.
'You...you daren't,' she said. 'To me...an outrage!' Her feet slid slowly to the floor; she measured the distance to the doorway with her eyes. 'You daren't,' she said again; 'I'd denounce you to the Bishop...'
'It's little the Bishop would help you with them burning into your skin,' the priest said. 'Go away, I bid you, and say a Hail Mary or two. Ye need them. Ye'll not talk of corrupting a little child before me again.'
'I won't,' Sylvia said. 'I shouldn't have...'
Her black figure showed in silhouette against the open doorway.
When the door was closed upon them, Mrs Satterthwaite said:
Was it necessary to threaten her with that? You know best, of course. It seems rather strong to me.'
'It's a hair from the dog that's bit her,' the priest said. 'She's a silly girl. She's been playing at black masses along with that Mrs Profumo and the fellow whose name I can't remember. You could tell that. They cut the throat of a white kid and splash its blood about...That was at the back of her mind...It's not very serious. A parcel of silly, idle girls. It's not much more than palmistry or fortune-telling to them if one has to weigh it, for all its ugliness, as a sin. As far as their volition goes, and it's volition that's the essence of prayer, black or white...But it was at the back of her mind, and she won't forget to-night.'
'Of course, that's your affair, Father,' Mrs Satterthwaite said lazily. 'You hit her pretty hard. I don't suppose she's ever been hit so hard. What was it you wouldn't tell her?'
'Only,' the priest said, 'I wouldn't tell her because the thought's best not put in her head...But her hell on earth will come when her husband goes running, blind, head down, mad after another woman.'
Mrs Satterthwaite looked at nothing; then she nodded. 'Yes,' she said; 'I hadn't thought of it...But will he? He is a very sound fellow, isn't he?'
'What's to stop it?' the priest asked. 'What in the world but the grace of our blessed Lord, which he hasn't got and doesn't ask for? And then...He's a young man, full-blooded, and they won't be living...maritalement. Not if I know him. And then...Then she'll tear the house down. The world will echo with her wrongs.'
'Do you mean to say,' Mrs Satterthwaite said, 'that Sylvia would do anything vulgar?'
'Doesn't every woman who's had a man to torture for years when she loses him?' the priest asked. 'The more she's made an occupation of torturing him, the less right she thinks she has to lose him.'
Mrs Satterthwaite looked gloomily into the dusk.
'That poor devil...' she said. 'Will he get any peace anywhere?...What's the matter, Father?'
The Father said:
'I've just remembered she gave me tea and cream and I drank it. Now I can't take mass for Father Reinhardt. I'll have to go and knock up his curate, who lives away in the forest.'
At the door, holding the candle, he said:
'I'd have you not get up to-day nor yet to-morrow, if ye can stand it. Have a headache and let Sylvia nurse you...You'll have to tell how she nursed you when you get back to London. And I'd rather ye didn't lie more out and out than ye need, if it's to please me...Besides, if ye watch Sylvia nursing you, you might hit on a characteristic touch to make it seem more truthful...How her sleeves brushed the medicine bottles and irritated you, maybe...or--you'll know! If we can save scandal to the congregation, we may as well.'
He ran downstairs.
At the slight creaking made by Macmaster in pushing open his door, Tietjens started violently. He was sitting in a smoking-jacket, playing patience engrossedly in a sort of garret bedroom. It had a sloping roof outlined by black oak beams, which cut into squares the cream-coloured patent distemper of the walls. The room contained also a four-post bedstead, a corner cupboard in black oak, and many rush mats on a polished oak floor of very irregular planking. Tietjens, who hated these disinterred and waxed relics of the past, sat in the centre of the room at a flimsy card-table beneath a white-shaded electric light of a brilliance that, in these surroundings, appeared unreasonable. This was one of those restored old groups of cottages that it was at that date the fashion to convert into hostelries. To it Macmaster, who was in search of the inspiration of the past, had preferred to come. Tietjens, not desiring to interfere with his friend's culture, had accepted the quarters, though he would have preferred to go to a comfortable modern hotel as being less affected and cheaper. Accustomed to what he called the grown-oldness of a morose, rambling Yorkshire manor house, he disliked being among collected and rather pitiful bits which, he said, made him feel ridiculous, as if he were trying to behave seriously at a fancy-dress ball. Macmaster, on the other hand, with gratification and a serious air, would run his finger tips along the bevellings of a darkened piece of furniture, and would declare it 'genuine Chippendale' or 'Jacobean oak,' as the case might be. And he seemed to gain an added seriousness and weight of manner with each piece of ancient furniture that down the years he thus touched. But Tietj ens would declare that you could tell the beastly thing was a fake by just cocking an eye at it and, if the matter happened to fall under the test of professional dealers in old furniture, Tietjens was the more often in the right of it, and Macmaster, sighing slightly, would prepare to proceed still further along the difficult road to connoisseurship. Eventually, by conscientious study, he got so far as at times to be called in by Somerset House to value great properties for probate--an occupation at once distinguished and highly profitable.
Tietjens swore with the extreme vehemence of a man who has been made, but who much dislikes being seen, to start.
Macmaster--in evening dress he looked extremely miniature!--said:
'I'm sorry, old man, I know how much you dislike being interrupted. But the General is in a terrible temper.'
Tietjens rose stiffly, lurched over to an eighteenth-century rosewood folding washstand, took from its top a glass of flat whisky and soda, and gulped down a large quantity. He looked about uncertainly, perceived a notebook on a 'Chippendale' bureau, made a short calculation in pencil and looked at his friend momentarily.
Macmaster said again:
'I'm sorry, old man. I must have interrupted one of your immense calculations.'
'You haven't. I was only thinking. I'm just as glad you've come. What did you say?'
'I said, the General is in a terrible temper. It's just as well you didn't come up to dinner.'
'He isn't...He isn't in a temper. He's as pleased as punch at not having to have these women up before him.' Macmaster said:
'He says he's got the police scouring the whole county for them, and that you'd better leave by the first train tomorrow.'
'I won't. I can't. I've got to wait here for a wire from Sylvia.'
'Oh dear! oh dear!' Then he said hopefully: 'But we could have it forwarded to Hythe.'
Tietjens said with some vehemence:
'I tell you I won't leave here. I tell you I've settled it with the police and that swine of a Cabinet Minister. I've mended the leg of the canary of the wife of the police-constable. Sit down and be reasonable. The police don't touch people like us.'
'I don't believe you realise the public feeling there is...'
'Of course I do, amongst people like Sandbach,' Tietjens said. 'Sit down I tell you...Have some whisky...' He filled himself out another long tumbler, and, holding it, dropped into a too low-seated, reddish wicker armchair that had cretonne fixings. Beneath his weight the chair sagged a good deal and his dress-shirt bulged up to his chin.
'What's the matter with you?' Tietjens' eyes were bloodshot.
'I tell you,' Tietjens said, 'I'm waiting for a wire from Sylvia.'
'Oh!' And then: 'It can't come to-night, it's getting on for one.'
'It can,' Tietjens said, 'I've fixed it up with the postmaster--all the way up to Town! It probably won't come because Sylvia won't send it until the last moment, to bother me. None the less, I'm waiting for a wire from Sylvia and this is what I look like.'
'That woman's the cruellest beast...'
'You might,' Tietjens interrupted, 'remember that you're talking about my wife.'
'I don't see,' Macmaster said, 'how one can talk about Sylvia without...'
'The line is a perfectly simple one to draw,' Tietjens said. 'You can relate a lady's actions if you know them and are asked to. You mustn't comment. In this case you don't know the lady's actions even, so you may as well hold your tongue.' He sat looking straight in front of him.
Macmaster sighed from deep in his chest. He asked himself if this was what sixteen hours' waiting had done for his friend, what were all the remaining hours going to do?
'I shall be fit to talk about Sylvia after two more whiskies...Let's settle your other perturbations first...The fair girl is called Wannop: Valentine Wannop.'
'That's the Professor's name,' Macmaster said.
'She's the late Professor Wannop's daughter,' Tietjens said. 'She's also the daughter of the novelist.'
'She supported herself for a year after the Professor's death as a domestic servant,' Tietjens said. 'Now she's housemaid for her mother, the novelist, in an inexpensive cottage. I should imagine the two experiences would make her desire to better the lot of her sex.'
Macmaster again interjected a 'But...'
'I got that information from the policeman whilst I was putting his wife's canary's leg in splints.'
'The policeman you knocked down?' His eyes expressed unreasoning surprise. He added: 'He knew Miss...eh...Wannop then!'
'You would not expect much intelligence from the police of Sussex,' Tietjens said. 'But you would be wrong. P.C. Finn is clever enough to recognise the young lady who for several years past has managed the constabulary's wives' and children's annual tea and sports. He says Miss Wannop holds the quarter-mile, half-mile, high jump, long jump and putting the weight records for East Sussex. That explains how she went over that dyke in such tidy style...And precious glad the good, simple man was when I told him he was to leave the girl alone. He didn't know, he said, how he'd ever a had the face to serve the warrant on Miss Wannop. The other girl--the one that squeaked--is a stranger, a Londoner probably.'
'You told the policeman...'
'I gave him,' Tietjens said, 'the Rt. Hon. Stephen Fenick Waterhouse's compliments, and he'd be much obliged if the P.C. would hand in a 'No Can Do' report in the matter of those ladies every morning to his inspector. I gave him also a brand new fi' pun note--from the Cabinet Minister--and a couple of quid and the price of a new pair of trousers from myself. So he's the happiest constable in Sussex. A very decent fellow; he told me how to know a dog otter's spoor from a gravid bitch's...But that wouldn't interest you.'
He began again:
'Don't look so inexpressibly foolish. I told you I'd been dining with that swine...No, I oughtn't to call him a swine after eating his dinner. Besides, he's a very decent fellow...
'You didn't tell me you'd been dining with Mr Waterhouse,' Macmaster said. 'I hope you remembered that, as he's amongst other things the President of the Funded Debt Commission he's the power of life and death over the department and us.'
'You didn't think,' Tietjens answered, 'that you are the only one to dine with the great ones of the earth! I wanted to talk to that fellow...about those figures their cursed crowd make me fake. I meant to give him a bit of my mind.'
'You didn't!' Macmaster said with an expression of panic. 'Besides, they didn't ask you to fake the calculation. They only asked you to work it out on the basis of given figures.'
'Anyhow,' Tietjens said, 'I gave him a bit of my mind. I told him that, at threepence, it must run the country--and certainly himself as a politician!--to absolute ruin.'
Macmaster uttered a deep 'Good Lord!' and then: 'But won't you ever remember you're a Government servant? He could...'
'Mr Waterhouse,' Tietjens said, 'asked me if I wouldn't consent to be transferred to his secretary's department. And when I said: "Go to hell!" he walked round the streets with me for two hours arguing...I was working out the chances on a 4/½d. basis for him when you interrupted me. I've promised to let him have the figures when he goes up by the 1.30 on Monday.'
'You haven't...But by Jove you're the only man in England that could do it.'
'That was what Mr Waterhouse said,' Tietjens commented. 'He said old Ingleby had told him so.'
'I do hope,' Macmaster said, 'that you answered him politely!'
'I told him,' Tietjens answered, 'that there were a dozen men who could do it as well as I, and I mentioned your name in particular.'
'But I couldn't,' Macmaster answered. 'Of course I could convert a 3d. rate into 4½d. But these are the actuarial variations; they're infinite. I couldn't touch them.'
Tietjens said negligently: 'I don't want my name mixed up in the unspeakable affair. When I give him the papers on Monday I shall tell him you did most of the work.'
Again Macmaster groaned.
Nor was this distress mere altruism. Immensely ambitious for his brilliant friend, Macmaster's ambition was one ingredient of his strong desire for security. At Cambridge he had been perfectly content with a moderate, quite respectable place on the list of mathematical postulants. He knew that that made him safe, and he had still more satisfaction in the thought that it would warrant him in never being brilliant in after life. But when Tietjens, two years after, had come out as a mere Second Wrangler, Macmaster had been bitterly and loudly disappointed. He knew perfectly well that Tietjens simply hadn't taken trouble; and, ten chances to one, it was on purpose that Tietjens hadn't taken trouble. For the matter of that, for Tietjens it wouldn't have been trouble.
And, indeed, to Macmaster's upbraidings, which Macmaster hadn't spared him, Tietjens had answered that he hadn't been able to think of going through the rest of his life with a beastly placard like Senior Wrangler hung round his neck.
But Macmaster had early made up his mind that life for him would be safest if he could go about, not very much observed but still an authority, in the midst of a body of men all labelled. He wanted to walk down Pall Mall on the arm, precisely, of a largely lettered Senior Wrangler; to return eastward on the arm of the youngest Lord Chancellor England had ever seen; to stroll down Whitehall in familiar converse with a world-famous novelist, saluting on the way a majority of My Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. And, after tea, for an hour at the club all these, in a little group, should treat him with the courtesy of men who respected him for his soundness. Then he would be safe.
And he had no doubt that Tietjens was the most brilliant man in England of that day, so that nothing caused him more anguish than the thought that Tietjens might not make a brilliant and rapid career towards some illustrious position in the public services. He would very willingly--he desired, indeed, nothing better--have seen Tietjens pass over his own head! It did not seem to him a condemnation of the public services that this appeared to be unlikely.
Yet Macmaster was still not without hope. He was quite aware that there are other techniques of careers than that which he had prescribed for himself. He could not imagine himself, even in the most deferential way, correcting a superior; yet he could see that, though Tietjens treated almost every hierarch as if he were a born fool, no one very much resented it. Of course Tietjens was a Tietjens of Groby; but was that going to be enough to live on for ever? Times were changing, and Macmaster imagined this to be a democratic age.
But Tietjens went on, with both hands as it were, throwing away opportunity and committing outrage...
That day Macmaster could only consider to be one of disaster. He got up from his chair and filled himself another drink; he felt himself to be distressed and to need it. Slouching among his cretonnes, Tietjens was gazing in front of him. He said:
'Here!' without looking at Macmaster, and held out his long glass. Into it Macmaster poured whisky with a hesitating hand. Tietjens said: 'Go on!'
'It's late; we're breakfasting at the Duchemins' at ten.' Tietjens answered:
'Don't worry, sonny. We'll be there for your pretty lady.' He added: 'Wait another quarter of an hour. I want to talk to you.'
Macmaster sat down again and deliberately began to review the day. It had begun with disaster, and in disaster it had continued.
And, with something like a bitter irony, Macmaster remembered and brought up now for digestion the parting words of General Campion to himself. The General had limped with him to the hall door up at Mountby and, standing patting him on the shoulder, tall, slightly bent and very friendly, had said:
'Look here, Christopher Tietjens is a splendid fellow. But he needs a good woman to look after him. Get him back to Sylvia as quick as you can. Had a little tiff, haven't they? Nothing serious? Chrissie hasn't been running after the skirts? No? I daresay a little. No? Well then...'
Macmaster had stood like a gate-post, so appalled. He had stuttered:
'We've known them both so long,' the General went on. 'Lady Claudine in particular. And, believe me, Sylvia is a splendid girl. Straight as a die; the soul of loyalty to her friends. And fearless--she'd face the devil in his rage. You should have seen her out with the Belvoir! Of course you know her...Well then!'
Macmaster had just managed to say that he knew Sylvia, of course.
'Well then...' the General had continued...'you'll agree with me that if there is anything wrong between them he's to blame. And it will be resented. Very bitterly. He wouldn't set foot in this house again. But he says he's going out to her and Mrs Satterthwaite.
'I believe...' Macmaster had begun...'I believe he is...'
'Well then!' the General had said: 'It's all right...But Christopher Tietjens needs a good woman's backing...He's a splendid fellow. There are few young fellows for whom I have more...I could almost say respect...But he needs that. To ballast him.'
In the car, running down the hill from Mountby, Macmaster had exhausted himself in the effort to restrain his execrations of the General. He wanted to shout that he was a pig-headed old fool: a meddlesome ass. But he was in the car with the two secretaries of the Cabinet Minister: the Rt. Hon. Edward Fenwick Waterhouse, who, being himself an advanced Liberal down for a week-end of golf, preferred not to dine at the house of the Conservative member. At that date there was, in politics, a phase of bitter social feud between the parties: a condition that had not till lately been characteristic of English political life. The prohibition had not extended itself to the two younger men.
Macmaster was not unpleasurably aware that these two fellows treated him with a certain deference. They had seen Macmaster being talked to familiarly by General Lord Campion. Indeed, they and the car had been kept waiting whilst the General patted their fellow guest on the shoulder; held his upper arm and spoke in a low voice into his ear...
But that was the only pleasure that Macmaster got out of it.
Yes, the day had begun disastrously with Sylvia's letter; it ended--if it was ended!--almost more disastrously with the General's eulogy of that woman. During the day he had nerved himself to having an immensely disagreeable scene with Tietjens. Tietjens must divorce the woman; it was necessary for the peace of mind of himself, of his friends, of his family; for the sake of his career; in the very name of decency!
In the meantime Tietjens had rather forced his hand. It had been a most disagreeable affair. They had arrived at Rye in time for lunch--at which Tietjens had consumed the best part of a bottle of Burgundy. During lunch Tietjens had given Macmaster Sylvia's letter to read, saying that, as he should later consult his friend, his friend had better be made acquainted with the document.
The letter had appeared extraordinary in its effrontery, for it said nothing. Beyond the bare statement, 'I am now ready to return to you,' it occupied itself simply with the fact that Mrs Tietjens wanted--could no longer get on without--the services of her maid, whom she called Hullo Central. If Tietjens wanted her, Mrs Tietjens, to return to him he was to see that Hullo Central was waiting on the doorstep for her, and so on. She added the detail that there was no one else, underlined, she could bear round her while she was retiring for the night. On reflection Macmaster could see that this was the best letter the woman could have written if she wanted to be taken back; for, had she extended herself into either excuses or explanations, it was ten chances to one Tietjens would have taken the line that he couldn't go on living with a woman capable of such a lapse in taste. But Macniaster had never thought of Sylvia as wanting in savoir faire.
It had, none the less, hardened him in his determination to urge his friend to divorce. He had intended to begin this campaign in the fly, driving to pay his call on the Rev. Mr Duchemin, who; in early life, had been a personal disciple of Mr Ruskin and a patron and acquaintance of the poet-painter, the subject of Macmaster's monograph. On this drive Tietjens preferred not to come. He said that he would loaf about the town and meet Macmaster at the golf club towards four-thirty. He was not in the mood for making new acquaintances. Macmaster, who knew the pressure under which his friend must be suffering, thought this reasonable enough, and drove off up Iden Hill by himself.
Few women had ever made so much impression on Macmaster as Mrs Duchemin. He knew himself to be in a mood to be impressed by almost any woman, but he considered that that was not enough to account for the very strong influence she at once exercised over him. There had been two young girls in the drawing-room when he had been ushered in, but they had disappeared almost simultaneously, and although he had noticed them immediately afterwards riding past the window on bicycles, he was aware that he would not have recognized them again. From her first words on rising to greet him: 'Not the Mr Macmaster!' he had had eyes for no one else.
It was obvious that the Rev. Mr Duchemin must be one of those clergymen of considerable wealth and cultured taste who not infrequently adorn the Church of England. The rectory itself, a great, warm-looking manor house of very old red brick, was abutted on to by one of the largest tithe barns that Macmaster had ever seen; the church itself, with a primitive roof of oak shingles, nestled in the corner formed by the ends of rectory and tithe barn, and was by so much the smallest of the three and so undecorated that but for its little belfry it might have been a good cow-byre. All three buildings stood on the very edge of the little row of hills that looks down on the Romney Marsh; they were sheltered from the north wind by a great symmetrical fan of elms and from the south-west by a very tall hedge and shrubbery, all of remarkable yews. It was, in short, an ideal cure of souls for a wealthy clergyman of cultured tastes, for there was not so much as a peasant's cottage within a mile of it.
To Macmaster, in short, this was the ideal English home. Of Mrs Duchemin's drawing-room itself, contrary to his habit, for he was sensitive and observant in such things, he could afterwards remember little except that it was perfectly sympathetic. Three long windows gave on to a perfect lawn, on which, isolated and grouped, stood standard rose trees, symmetrical half globes of green foliage picked out with flowers like bits of carved pink marble. Beyond the lawn was a low stone wall; beyond that the quiet expanse of the marsh shimmered in the sunlight.
The furniture of the room was, as to its woodwork, brown, old, with the rich softnesses of much polishing with beeswax. What pictures there were Macmaster recognized at once as being by Simeon Solomon, one of the weaker and more frail aesthetes--aureoled, palish heads of ladies carrying lilies that were not very like lilies. They were in the tradition--but not the best of the tradition. Macmaster understood--and later Mrs Duchemin confirmed him in the idea--that Mr Duchemin kept his more precious specimens of work in a sanctum, leaving to the relatively public room, good-humouredly and with slight contempt, these weaker specimens. That seemed to stamp Mr Duchemin at once as being of the elect.
Mr Duchemin in person was, however, not present; and there seemed to be a good deal of difficulty in arranging a meeting between the two men. Mr Duchemin, his wife said, was much occupied at the week-ends. She added, with a faint and rather absent smile, the word, 'Naturally.' Macmaster at once saw that it was natural for a clergyman to be much occupied during the week-ends. With a little hesitation Mrs Duchemin suggested that Mr Macmaster and his friend might come to lunch on the next day--Saturday. But Macmaster had made an engagement to play the foursome with General Campion--half the round from twelve till one-thirty: half the round from three to half-past four. And, as their then present arrangements stood, Macmaster and Tietjens were to take the 6.30 train to Hythe; that ruled out either tea or dinner next day.
With sufficient, but not too extravagant regret, Mrs Duchemin raised her voice to say:
'Oh dear! Oh dear! But you must see my husband and the pictures after you have come so far.'
A rather considerable volume of harsh sound was coming through the end wall of the room--the barking of dogs, apparently the hurried removal of pieces of furniture or perhaps of packing cases, guttural ejaculations. Mrs Duchemin said, with her far-away air and deep voice:
'They are making a good deal of noise. Let us go into the garden and look at my husband's roses, if you've a moment more to give us.'
Macmaster quoted to himself:
'"I looked and saw your eyes in the shadow of your hair..."'
There was no doubt that Mrs Duchemin's eyes, which were of a dark, pebble blue, were actually in the shadow of her blue-black, very regularly waved hair. The hair came down on the square, low forehead. It was a phenomenon that Macmaster had never before really seen, and, he congratulated himself, this was one more confirmation--if confirmation were needed!--of the powers of observation of the subject of his monograph!
Mrs Duchemin bore the sunlight! Her dark complexion was clear; there was, over the cheekbones, a delicate suffusion of light carmine. Her jawbone was singularly clear-cut, to the pointed chin--like an alabaster, mediaeval saint's.
'Of course you're Scotch. I'm from Auld Reekie myself.' Macmaster would have known it. He said he was from the Port of Leith. He could not imagine hiding anything from Mrs Duchemin. Mrs Duchemin said with renewed insistence:
'Oh, but of course you must see my husband and the pictures. Let me see...We must think...Would breakfast now...?'
Macmaster said that he and his friend were Government servants and up to rising early. He had a great desire to breakfast in that house. She said:
'At a quarter to ten, then, our car will be at the bottom of your street. It's a matter of ten minutes only, so you won't go hungry long!'
She said, gradually gaining animation, that of course Macmaster would bring his friend. He could tell Tietjens that he should meet a very charming girl. She stopped and added suddenly: 'Probably, at any rate.' She said the name which Macmaster caught as Wanstead.' And possibly another girl. And Mr Horsted, or something like it, her husband's junior curate. She said reflectively:
'Yes, we might try quite a party...' and added, 'quite noisy and gay. I hope your friend's talkative!' Macmaster said something about trouble.
'Oh, it can't be too much trouble,' she said. 'Besides it might do my husband good.' She went on: 'Mr Duchemin is apt to brood. It's perhaps too lonely here.' And added the rather astonishing words: 'After all.'
And, driving back in the fly, Macmaster said to himself that you couldn't call Mrs Duchemin ordinary, at least. Yet meeting her was like going into a room that you had long left and never ceased to love. It felt good. It was perhaps partly her Edinburgh-ness. Macmaster allowed himself to coin that word. There was in Edinburgh a society--he himself had never been privileged to move in it, but its annals are part of the literature of Scotland!--where the ladies are all great ladies in tall drawing-rooms; circumspect yet shrewd: still yet with a sense of the comic: frugal yet warmly hospitable. It was perhaps just Edinburgh-ness that was wanting in the drawing-rooms of his friends in London. Mrs Cressy, the Hon. Mrs Limoux and Mrs Delawnay were all almost perfection in manner, in speech, in composure. But, then they were not young, they weren't Edinburgh--and they weren't strikingly elegant!
Mrs Duchemin was all three. Her assured, tranquil manner she would retain to any age: it betokened the enigmatic soul of her sex, but, physically, she couldn't be more than thirty. That was unimportant, for she would never want to do anything in which physical youth counted. She would never, for instance, have occasion to run: she would always just 'move'--floatingly! He tried to remember the details of her dress.
It had certainly been dark blue--and certainly of silk: that rather coarsely woven, exquisite material that has on it folds as of a silvery shimmer with minute knots. But very dark blue. And it contrived to be at once artistic---absolutely in the tradition! And yet well cut! Very large sleeves, of course, but still with a certain fit. She had worn an immense necklace of yellow polished amber: on the dark blue! And Mrs Duchemin had said, over her husband's roses, that the blossoms always reminded her of little mouldings of pink cloud come down for the cooling of the earth...A charming thought!
Suddenly he said to himself:
'What a mate for Tietjens I' And his mind added: 'Why should she not become an Influence!'
A vista opened before him in time! He imagined Tietjens, in some way proprietarily responsible for Mrs Duchemin: quite pour le bon, tranquilly passionate and accepted, motif; and 'immensely improved' by the association. And himself, in a year or two, bringing the at last found Lady of his Delight to sit at the feet of Mrs Duchemin--the Lady of his Delight whilst circumspect would be also young and impressionable!--to learn the mysterious assuredness of manner, the gift of dressing, the knack of wearing amber and bending over standard roses--and the Edinburgh-ness!
Macmaster was thus not a little excited, and finding Tietjens at tea amid the green-stained furnishings and illustrated papers of the large, corrugated-iron golf-house, he could not help exclaiming:
'I've accepted the invitation to breakfast with the Duchemins to-morrow for us both. I hope you won't mind,' although Tietjens was sitting at a little table with General Campion and his brother-in-law, the Hon. Paul Sandbach, Conservative member for the division and husband of Lady Claudine. The General said pleasantly to Tietjens:
'Breakfast! With Duchemin! You go, my boy! You'll get the best breakfast you ever had in your life.'
He added to his brother-in-law: 'Not the eternal mock kedgeree Claudine gives us every morning.'
'It's not for want of trying to steal their cook. Claudine has a shy at it every time we come down here.'
The General said pleasantly to Macmaster--he spoke always pleasantly, with a half smile and a slight sibilance:
'My brother-in-law isn't serious, you understand. My sister wouldn't think of stealing a cook. Let alone from Duchemin. She'd be frightened to.'
Both these gentlemen were very lame: Mr Sandbach from birth and the General as the result of a slight but neglected motor accident. He had practically only one vanity, the belief that he was qualified to act as his own chauffeur, and since he was both inexpert and very careless, he met with frequent accidents. Mr Sandbach had a dark, round, bull-dog face and a violent manner. He had twice been suspended from his Parliamentary duties for applying to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the epithet 'lying attorney,' and he was at that moment still suspended.
Macmaster then became unpleasantly perturbed. With his sensitiveness he was perfectly aware of an unpleasant chill in the air. There was also a stiffness about Tietjens' eyes. He was looking straight before him; there was a silence too. Behind Tietjens' back were two men with bright green coats, red knitted waistcoats and florid faces. One was bald and blond, the other had black hair, remarkably oiled and shiny; both were forty-fivish. They were regarding the occupants of the Tietjens table with both their mouths slightly open. They were undisguisedly listening. In front of each were three empty sloe-gin glasses and one half-filled tumbler of brandy and soda. Macmaster understood why the General had explained that his sister had not tried to steal Mrs Duchemin's cook.
'Drink up your tea quickly and let's get started.' He was drawing from his pocket a number of telegraph forms which he began arranging. The General said:
'Don't burn your mouth. We can't start off before all...all these other gentlemen. We're too slow.'
'No, we're beastly well stuck,' Sandbach said. Tietjens handed the telegraph forms to Macmaster. 'You'd better take a look at these,' he said. 'I mayn't see you again to-day after the match. You're dining up at Mountby. The General will run you up. Lady Claude will excuse me. I've got work to do.'
This was already matter for dismay for Macmaster. He was aware that Tietjens would have disliked dining up at Mountby with the Sandbachs, who would have a crowd, extremely smart but more than usually unintelligent. Tietjens called this crowd, indeed, the plague-spot of the party--meaning of Toryism. But Macmaster couldn't help thinking that a disagreeable dinner would be better for his friend than brooding in solitude in the black shadows of the huddled town. Then Tietjens said:
'I'm going to have a word with that swine!' He pointed his square chin rather rigidly before him, and looking past the two brandy drinkers, Macmaster saw one of those faces that frequent caricature made familiar and yet strange. Macmaster couldn't, at the moment, put a name to it. It must be a politician, probably a Minister. But which? His mind was already in a dreadful state. In the glimpse he had caught of the telegraph form now in his hand, he had perceived that it was addressed to Sylvia Tietjens and began with the word 'agreed.' He said swiftly:
'Has that been sent or is it only a draft?'
'That fellow is the Rt. Hon. Stephen Fenwick Waterhouse. He's chairman of the Funded Debt Commission. He's the swine who made us fake that return in the office.'
That moment was the worst Macmaster had ever known. A worse came. Tietjens said:
'I'm going to have a word with him. That's why I'm not dining at Mountby. It's a duty to the country.'
Macmaster's mind simply stopped. He was in a space, all windows. There was sunlight outside. And clouds. Pink and white. Woolly! Some ships. And two men: one dark and oily, the other rather blotchy on a blond baldness. They were talking, but their words made no impression on Macmaster. The dark, oily man said that he was not going to take Gertie to. Budapest. Not half! He winked like a nightmare. Beyond were two young men and a preposterous face...It was all so like a nightmare that the Cabinet Minister's features were distorted for Macmaster. Like an enormous mask of pantomime: shiny, with an immense nose and elongated, Chinese eyes.
Yet not unpleasant! Macmaster was a Whig by conviction, by nature, by temperament. He thought that public servants should abstain from political activity. Nevertheless, he couldn't be expected to think a Liberal Cabinet Minister ugly. On the contrary, Mr Waterhouse appeared to have a frank, humorous, kindly expression. He listened deferentially to one of his secretaries, resting his hand on the young man's shoulder, smiling a little, rather sleepily. No doubt he was overworked. And then, letting himself go in a side-shaking laugh. Putting on flesh!
What a pity! What a pity! Macmaster was reading a string of incomprehensible words in Tietjens' heavily scored writing. Not entertain...flat not house...child remain at sister...His eyes went backwards and forwards over the phrases. He could not connect the words without stops. The man with the oily hair said in a sickly voice that Gertie was hot stuff, but not the one for Budapest with all the Gitana girls you were telling me of! Why, he'd kept Gertie for five years now. More like the real thing! His friend's voice was like a result of indigestion. Tietjens, Sandbach and the General were stiff, like pokers.
What a pity! Macmaster thought.
He ought to have been sitting...It would have been pleasant and right to be sitting with the pleasant Minister. In the ordinary course he, Macmaster, would have been. The best golfer in the place was usually set to play with distinguished visitors, and there was next to no one in the south of England who ordinarily could beat him. He had begun at four, playing with a miniature cleek and a found shilling ball over the municipal links. Going to the poor school every morning and back to dinner; and back to school and back to bed! Over the cold, rushy, sandy links, beside the grey sea. Both shoes full of sand. The found shilling ball had lasted him three years...
Macmaster exclaimed: 'Good God.' He had just gathered from the telegram that Tietjens meant to go to Germany on Tuesday. As if at Macmaster's ejaculation, Tietjens said:
'Yes. It is unbearable. If you don't stop those swine, General, I shall.'
The General sibilated low, between his teeth:
'Wait a minute...Wait a minute...Perhaps that other fellow will.'
The man with the black oily hair said:
'If Budapest's the place for the girls you say it is, old pal, with the Turkish baths and all, we'll paint the old town red all right next month,' and he winked at Tietjens. His friend, with his head down, seemed to make internal rumblings, looking apprehensively beneath his blotched forehead at the General.
'Not,' the other continued argumentatively, 'that I don't love my old woman. She's all right. And then there's Gertie. 'Ot stuff, but the real thing. But I say a man wants...' He ejaculated, 'Oh!'
The General, his hands in his pockets, very tall, thin, red-cheeked, his white hair combed forward in a fringe, sauntered towards the other table. It was not two yards, but it seemed a long saunter. He stood right over them, they looking up, open-eyed, like schoolboys at a balloon. He said:
'I'm glad you're enjoying our links, gentlemen.'
The bald man said: 'We are! We are! First-class. A treat!'
'But,' the General said, 'it isn't wise to discuss one's...eh...domestic circumstances...at...at mess, you know, or in a golf house. People might hear.'
The gentleman with the oily hair half rose and exclaimed:
'Oo, the...' The other man mumbled: 'Shut up, Briggs.'
The General said:
'I'm the president of the club, you know. It's my duty to see that the majority of the club and its visitors are pleased. I hope you don't mind.'
The General came back to his seat. He was trembling with vexation.
'It makes one as beastly a bounder as themselves,' he said. 'But what the devil else was one to do?' The two city men had ambled hastily into the dressing-rooms; the dire silence fell. Macmaster realised that, for these Tories at least, this was really the end of the world. The last of England! He returned, with panic in his heart, to Tietjens' telegram...Tietjens was going to Germany on Tuesday. He offered to throw over the department...These were unthinkable things. You couldn't imagine them!
He began to read the telegram all over again. A shadow fell upon the flimsy sheets. The Rt. Hon. Mr Waterhouse was between the head of the table and the windows. He said:
'We're much obliged, General. It was impossible to hear ourselves speak for those obscene fellows' smut. It's fellows like that make our friends the suffragettes! That warrants them...' He added: 'Hullo! Sandbach! Enjoying your rest?'
The General said:
'I was hoping you'd take on the job of telling these fellows off.'
Mr Sandbach, his bull-dog jaw sticking out, the short black hair on his scalp appearing to rise, barked: 'Hullo, Waterslop! Enjoying your plunder?'
Mr Waterhouse, tall, slouching and untidy-haired, lifted the flaps of his coat. It was so ragged that it appeared as if straws stuck out of the elbows.
'All that the suffragettes have left of me,' he said laughingly. 'Isn't one of you fellows a genius called Tietjens?' He was looking at Macmaster. The General said:
'Tietjens Macmaster...' The Minister went on very friendly:
'Oh, it's you?...I just wanted to take the opportunity of thanking you.'
'Good God! What for?'
'You know!' the Minister said, 'we couldn't have got the Bill before the House till next session without your figures...' He said slyly: 'Could we, Sandbach?' and added to Tietjens: 'Ingleby told me...'
Tietjens was chalk-white and stiffened. He stuttered: 'I can't take any credit...I consider...'
'Tietjens...you...' he didn't know what he was going to say.
'Oh, you're too modest,' Mr Waterhouse overwhelmed Tietjens. 'We know whom we've to thank...' His eyes drifted to Sandbach a little absently. Then his face lit up.
'Oh I Look here, Sandbach,' he said...'Come here, will you?' He walked a pace or two away, calling to one of his young men: 'Oh, Sanderson, give the bobbie a drink. A good stiff one.' Sandbach jerked himself awkwardly out of his chair and limped to the Minister.
Tietjens burst out:
'Me too modest! Me!...The swine...The unspeakable swine!'
The General said:
'What's it all about, Chrissie? You probably are too modest.'
'Damn it. It's a serious matter. It's driving me out of the unspeakable office I'm in.'
'No! No! You're wrong. It's a wrong view you take.' And with a good deal of real passion he began to explain to the General. It was an affair that had already given him a great deal of pain. The Government had asked the statistical department for figures illuminating a number of schedules that they desired to use in presenting their new Bill to the Commons. Mr Waterhouse was to present it.
Mr Waterhouse at the moment was slapping Mr Sandbach on the back, tossing the hair out of his eyes and laughing like an hysterical schoolgirl. He looked suddenly tired. A police constable, his buttons shining, appeared, drinking from a pewter-pot outside the glazed door. The two city men ran across the angle from the dressing-room to the same door, buttoning their clothes. The Minister said loudly:
'Make it guineas!'
It seemed to Macmaster painfully wrong that Tietjens should call anyone so genial and unaffected an unspeakable swine. It was unjust. He went on with his explanation to the General.
The Government had wanted a set of figures based on a calculation called B7. Tietjens, who had been working on one called H19--for his own instruction--had persuaded himself that H19 was the lowest figure that was actuarially sound.
The General said pleasantly: 'All this is Greek to me.'
'Oh no, it needn't be,' Macmaster heard himself say. 'It amounts to this. Chrissie was asked by the Government--by Sir Reginald Ingleby--to work out what 3 x 3 comes to: it was that sort of thing in principle. He said that the only figure that would not ruin the country was nine times nine...'
'The Government wanted to shovel money into the working man's pockets, in fact,' the General said. 'Money for nothing...or votes, I suppose.'
'But that isn't the point, sir,' Macmaster ventured to say. 'All that Chrissie was asked to do was to say what 3 X 3 was.'
'Well, he appears to have done it and earned no end of kudos,' the General said. 'That's all right. We've all, always, believed in Chrissie's ability. But he's a strong-tempered beggar.'
'He was extraordinarily rude to Sir Reginald over it,' Macmaster went on.
The General said:
'Oh dear! Oh dear!' He shook his head at Tietjens and assumed with care the blank, slightly disappointing air of the regular officer. 'I don't like to hear of rudeness to a superior. In any service.'
'I don't think,' Tietjens said with extreme mildness, 'that Macmaster is quite fair to me. Of course he's a right to his opinion as to what the discipline of a service demands. I certainly told Ingleby that I'd rather resign than do that beastly job...'
'You shouldn't have,' the General said. 'What would become of the services if everyone did as you did?'
Sandbach came back laughing and dropped painfully into his low arm-chair.
'That fellow...' he began.
The General slightly raised his hand.
'A minute!' he said. 'I was about to tell Chrissie, here, that if I am offered the job--of course it's an order really--of suppressing the Ulster Volunteers...I'd rather cut my throat than do it...'
'Of course you would, old chap. They're our brothers. You'd see the beastly, lying Government damned first.'
'I was going to say that I should accept,' the General said, 'I shouldn't resign my commission.'
'Well, I didn't.'
'General! You! After all Claudine and I have said...' Tietjens interrupted:
'Excuse me, Sandbach. I'm receiving this reprimand for the moment. I wasn't, then, rude to Ingleby. If I'd expressed contempt for what he said or for himself, that would have been rude. I didn't. He wasn't in the least offended. He looked like a cockatoo, but he wasn't offended. And I let him over-persuade me. He was right, really. He pointed out that, if I didn't do the job, those swine would put on one of our little competition wallah head clerks and get all the schedules faked, as well as starting off with false premises!'
'That's the view I take,' the General said, 'if I don't take the Ulster job the Government will put on a fellow who'll burn all the farm-houses and rape all the women in the three counties. They've got him up their sleeve. He only asks for the Connaught Rangers to go through the north with. And you know what that means. All the same...' He looked at Tietjens: 'One should not be rude to one's superiors.'
'I tell you I wasn't rude,' Tietjens exclaimed. 'Damn your nice, paternal old eyes. Get that into your mind!' The General shook his head:
'You brilliant fellows!' he said. 'The country, or the army, or anything, could not be run by you. It takes stupid fools like me and Sandbach, along with sound moderate heads like our friend here.' He indicated Macmaster and, rising, went on: 'Come along. You're playing me, Macmaster. They say you're hot stuff. Chrissie's no good. He can take Sandbach on.'
He walked off with Macmaster towards the dressing-room.
Sandbach, wriggling awkwardly out of his chair, shouted:
'Save the country...Damn it...' He stood on his feet. 'I and Campion...Look at what the country's come to...What with swine like these two in our club houses! And policemen to go round the links with Ministers to protect them from the wild women...By God! I'd like to have the flaying of the skin off some of their backs I would. My God I would.'
'That fellow Waterslops is a bit of a sportsman. I haven't been able to tell you about our bet, you've been making such a noise...Is your friend really plus one at North Berwick? What are you like?'
'Macmaster is a good plus two anywhere when he's in practice.'
'Good Lord...A stout fellow...'
'As for me,' Tietjens said, 'I loathe the beastly game.' 'So do I,' Sandbach answered. 'We'll just lollop along behind them.'
They came out into the bright open where all the distances under the tall sky showed with distinct prismatic outlines. They made a little group of seven--for Tietjens would not have a caddy--waiting on the flat, first teeing ground. Macmaster walked up to Tietjens and said under his voice:
'You've really sent that wire?...'
'It'll be in Germany by now!'
Mr Sandbach hobbled from one to the other explaining the terms of his wager with Mr Waterhouse. Mr Waterhouse had backed one of the young men playing with him to drive into and hit twice in the eighteen holes the two city men who would be playing ahead of them. As the Minister had taken rather short odds, Mr Sandbach considered him a good sport.
A long way down the first hole Mr Waterhouse and his two companions were approaching the first green. They had high sandhills to the right and, to their left, a road that was fringed with rushes and a narrow dyke. Ahead of the Cabinet Minister the two city men and their two caddies stood on the edge of the dyke or poked downwards into the rushes. Two girls appeared and disappeared on the tops of the sandhills. The policeman was strolling along the road, level with Mr Waterhouse. The General said:
'I think we could go now.'
'Waterslops will get a hit at them from the next tee. They're in the dyke.'
The General drove a straight, goodish ball. Just as Macmaster was in his swing Sandbach shouted:
'By God! He nearly did it. See that fellow jump!' Macmaster looked round over his shoulder and hissed with vexation between his teeth:
'Don't you know that you don't shout while a man is driving? Or haven't you played golf?' He hurried fussily after his ball.
Sandbach said to Tietjens:
'Golly! That chap's got a temper!'
'Only over this game. You deserved what you got.' Sandbach said:
'I did...But I didn't spoil his shot. He's outdriven the General twenty yards.'
'It would have been sixty but for you.'
They loitered about on the tee waiting for the others to get their distance. Sandbach said:
'By Jove, your friend is on with his second...You wouldn't believe it of such a little beggar!' He added: 'He's not much class, is he?'
Tietjens looked down his nose.
'Oh, about our class!' he said. 'He wouldn't take a bet about driving into the couple ahead.'
Sandbach hated Tietjens for being a Tietjens of Groby: Tietjens was enraged by the existence of Sandbach, who was the son of an ennobled mayor of Middlesbrough, seven miles or so from Groby. The feuds between the Cleveland landowners and the Cleveland plutocrats are very bitter. Sandbach said:
'Ah, I suppose he gets you out of scrapes with girls and the Treasury, and you take him about in return. It's a practical combination.'
'Like Pottle Mills and Stanton,' Tietjens said. The financial operations connected with the amalgamating of these two steelworks had earned Sandbach's father a good deal of odium in the Cleveland district...Sandbach said:
'Look here, Tietjens...' But he changed his mind and said:
'We'd better go now.' He drove off with an awkward action but not without skill. He certainly outplayed Tietjens.
Playing very slowly, for both were desultory and Sandbach very lame, they lost sight of the others behind some coastguard cottages and dunes before they had left the third tee. Because of his game leg Sandbach sliced a good deal. On this occasion he sliced right into the gardens of the cottages and went with his boy to look for his ball among potato-haulms, beyond a low wall. Tietjens patted his own ball lazily up the fairway and, dragging his bag behind him by the strap, he sauntered on.
Although Tietjens hated golf as he hated any occupation that was of a competitive nature, he could engross himself in the mathematics of trajectories when he accompanied Macmaster in one of his expeditions for practice. He accompanied Macmaster because he liked there to be one pursuit at which his friend undisputably excelled himself, for it was a bore always brow-beating the fellow. But he stipulated that they should visit three different and, if possible, unknown courses every week-end when they golfed. He interested himself then in the way the courses were laid out, acquiring thus an extraordinary connoisseurship in golf architecture, and he made abstruse calculations as to the flight of balls off sloped club-faces, as to the foot-poundals of energy exercised by one muscle or the other, and as to theories of spin. As often as not he palmed Macmaster off as a fair, average player on some other unfortunate fair, average stranger. Then he passed the afternoon in the club-house studying the pedigrees and forms of racehorses, for every club-house contained a copy of Ruff's Guide. In the spring he would hunt for and examine the nests of soft-billed birds, for he was interested in the domestic affairs of the cuckoo, though he hated natural history and field botany.
On this occasion he had just examined some notes of other mashie shots, had put the notebook back in his pocket, and had addressed his ball with a niblick that had an unusually roughened face and a head like a hatchet. Meticulously, when he had taken his grip he removed his little and third fingers from the leather of the shaft. He was thanking heaven that Sandbach seemed to be accounted for for ten minutes at least, for Sandbach was miserly over lost balls and, very slowly, he was raising his mashie to half cock for a sighting shot.
He was aware that someone, breathing a little heavily from small lungs, was standing close to him and watching him: he could indeed, beneath his cap-rim, perceive the tips of a pair of boy's white sand-shoes. It in no way perturbed him to be watched, since he was avid of no personal glory when making his shots. A voice said:
'I say...' He continued to look at his ball.
'Sorry to spoil your shot,' the voice said. 'But...'
Tietjens dropped his club altogether and straightened his back. A fair young woman with a fixed scowl was looking at him intently. She had a short skirt and was panting a little.
'I say,' she said, 'go and see they don't hurt Gertie. I've lost her...' She pointed back to the sandhills. 'There looked to be some beasts among them.'
She seemed a perfectly negligible girl except for the frown: her eyes blue, her hair no doubt fair under a white canvas hat. She had a striped cotton blouse, but her fawn tweed skirt was well hung.
'You've been demonstrating.'
'Of course we have, and of course you object on principle. But you won't let a girl be man-handled. Don't wait to tell me, I know it...'
Noises existed. Sandbach, from beyond the low garden wall fifty yards away, was yelping, just like a dog: 'Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!' and gesticulating. His little caddy, entangled in his golfbag, was trying to scramble over the wall. On top of a high sandhill stood the policeman: he waved his arms like a windmill and shouted. Beside him and behind, slowly rising, were the heads of the General, Macmaster and their two boys. Farther along, in completion, were appearing the figures of Mr Waterhouse, his two companions and their three boys. The Minister was waving his driver and shouting. They all shouted.
'A regular rat-hunt,' the girl said; she was counting. 'Eleven and two more caddies!' She exhibited satisfaction. 'I headed them all off except two beasts. They couldn't run. But neither can Genie...
She said urgently:
'Come along! You aren't going to leave Gertie to those beasts They're drunk...'
'Cut away then. I'll look after Gertie.' He picked up his bag.
'No, I'll come with you,' the girl said.
Tietjens answered: 'Oh, you don't want to go to gaol. Clear out!'
'Nonsense. I've put up with worse than that. Nine months as a slavey...Come along!'
Tietjens started to run--rather like a rhinoceros seeing purple. He had been violently spurred, for he had been pierced by a shrill, faint scream. The girl ran beside him.
'You...can...run!' she panted, 'put on a spurt.'
Screams protesting against physical violence were at that date rare things in England. Tietjens had never heard the like. It upset him frightfully, though he was aware only of an expanse of open country. The policeman, whose buttons made him noteworthy, was descending his conical sand-hill, diagonally, with caution. There is something grotesque about a town policeman, silvered helmet and all, in the open country. It was so clear and still in the air; Tietjens felt as if he were in a light museum looking at specimens...
A little young woman, engrossed, like a hunted rat, came round the corner of a green mound. 'This is an assaulted female!' the mind of Tietjens said to him. She had a black skirt covered with sand, for she had just rolled down the sandhill; she had a striped grey and black silk blouse, one shoulder torn completely off, so that a white camisole showed. Over the shoulder of the sandhill came the two city men, flushed with triumph and panting; their red knitted waistcoats moved like bellows. The black-haired one, his eyes lurid and obscene, brandished aloft a fragment of black and grey stuff. He shouted hilariously:
'Strip the bitch naked!...Ugh...Strip the bitch stark naked!' and jumped down the little hill. He cannoned into Tietjens, who roared at the top of his voice:
'You infernal swine. I'll knock your head off if you move!'
Behind Tietjens' back the girl said:
'Come along, Gertie...It's only to there...'
A voice panted in answer:
Tietjens kept his eye upon the city man. His jaw had fallen down, his eyes stared! It was as if the bottom of his assured world, where all men desire in their hearts to bash women, had fallen out. He panted:
Another scream, a little farther than the last voices from behind his back, caused in Tietjens a feeling of intense weariness. What did beastly women want to scream for? He swung round, bag and all. The policeman, his face scarlet like a lobster just boiled, was lumbering unenthusiastically towards the two girls who were trotting towards the dyke. One of his hands, scarlet also, was extended. He was not a yard from Tietjens.
Tietjens was exhausted, beyond thinking or shouting. He slipped his clubs off his shoulder and, as if he were pitching his kit-bag into a luggage van, threw the whole lot between the policeman's running legs. The man, who had no impetus to speak of, pitched forward on to his hands and knees. His helmet over his eyes, he seemed to reflect for a moment; then he removed his helmet and with great deliberation rolled round and sat on the turf. His face was completely without emotion, long, sandy-moustached and rather shrewd. He mopped his brow with a carmine handkerchief that had white spots.
Tietjens walked up to him.
'Clumsy of me!' he said. 'I hope you're not hurt.' He drew from his breast pocket a curved silver flask. The policeman said nothing. His world, too, contained uncertainties, and he was profoundly glad to be able to sit still without discredit. He muttered:
'Shaken. A bit! Anybody would be!'
That let him out and he fell to examining with attention the bayonet catch of the flask top. Tietjens opened it for him. The two girls, advancing at a fatigued trot, were near the dyke side. The fair girl, as they trotted, was trying to adjust her companion's hat; attached by pins to the back of her hair it flapped on her shoulder.
All the rest of the posse were advancing at a very slow walk, in a converging semi-circle. Two little caddies were running, but Tietjens saw them check, hesitate and stop. And there floated to Tietjens' ears the words:
'Stop, you little devils. She'll knock your heads off.'
The Rt. Hon. Mr Waterhouse must have found an admirable voice trainer somewhere. The drab girl was balancing tremulously over a plank on the dyke; the other took it at a jump; up in the air--down on her feet; perfectly business-like. And, as soon as the other girl was off the plank, she was down on her knees before it, pulling it towards her, the other girl trotting away over the vast marsh field.
The girl dropped the plank on the grass. Then she looked up and faced the men and boys who stood in a row on the road. She called in a shrill, high voice, like a young cockerel's:
'Seventeen to two! The usual male odds! You'll have to go round by Camber railway bridge, and we'll be in Folkestone by then. We've got bicycles!' She was half going when she checked and, searching out Tietjens to address, exclaimed: 'I'm sorry I said that. Because some of you didn't want to catch us. But some of you did. And you were seventeen to two.' She addressed Mr Waterhouse:
'Why don't you give women the vote?' she said. 'You'll find it will interfere a good deal with your indispensable golf if you don't. Then what becomes of the nation's health?'
Mr Waterhouse said:
'If you'll come and discuss it quietly...'
'Oh, tell that to the marines,' and turned away, the men in a row watching her figure disappear into the distance of the flat land. Not one of them was inclined to risk that jump: there was nine foot of mud in the bottom of the dyke. It was quite true that, the plank being removed, to go after the women they would have had to go several miles round. It had been a well-thought-out raid. Mr Waterhouse said that girl was a ripping girl: the others found her just ordinary. Mr Sandbach, who had only lately ceased to shout: 'Hi!' wanted to know what they were going to do about catching the women, but Mr Waterhouse said: 'Oh, chuck it, Sandy,' and went off.
Mr Sandbach refused to continue his match with Tietjens. He said that Tietjens was the sort of fellow who was the ruin of England. He said he had a good mind to issue a warrant for the arrest of Tietjens--for obstructing the course of justice. Tietjens pointed out that Sandbach wasn't a borough magistrate and so couldn't. And Sandbach went off, dot and carry one, and began a furious row with the two city men who had retreated to a distance. He said they were the sort of men who were the ruin of England. They bleated like rams...
Tietjens wandered slowly up the course, found his ball, made his shot with care and found that the ball deviated several feet less to the right of a straight line than he had expected. He tried the shot again, obtained the same result and tabulated his observations in his notebook. He sauntered slowly back towards the club-house. He was content.
He felt himself to be content for the first time in four months. His pulse beat calmly; the heat of the sun all over him appeared to be a beneficent flood. On the flanks of the older and larger sandhills he observed the minute herbage, mixed with little purple aromatic plants. To these the constant nibbling of sheep had imparted a protective tininess. He wandered, content, round the sand-hills to the small, silted harbour mouth. After reflecting for some time on the wave-curves in the sloping mud of the water sides, he had a long conversation, mostly in signs, with a Finn who hung over the side of a tarred, stump-masted, battered vessel that had a gaping, splintered hole where the anchor should have hung. She came from Archangel; was of several hundred tons burthen, was knocked together anyhow, of soft wood, for about ninety pounds, and launched, sink or swim, in the timber trade. Beside her, taut, glistening with brasswork, was a new fishing boat, just built here for the Lowestoft fleet. Ascertaining her price from a man who was finishing her painting, Tietjens reckoned that you could have built three of the Archangel timber ships for the cost of that boat, and that the Archangel vessel would earn about twice as much per hour per ton....
It was in that way his mind worked when he was fit: it picked up little pieces of definite, workmanlike information. When it had enough it classified them: not for any purpose, but because to know things was agreeable and gave a feeling of strength, of having in reserve something that the other fellow would not suspect...He passed a long, quiet, abstracted afternoon.
In the dressing-room he found the General, among lockers, old coats and stoneware washing-basins set in scrubbed wood. The General leaned back against a row of these things.
'You are the ruddy limit!' he exclaimed.
The General said he had sent Macmaster off with Sandbach in the two-seater. Macmaster had to dress before going up to Mountby. He added: 'The ruddy limit!' again.
Because I knocked the bobbie over?' Tietjens asked. 'He liked it.'
The General said:
'Knocked the bobble over...I didn't see that.'
'He didn't want to catch the girls,' Tietjens said, 'you could see him--oh, yearning not to.'
'I don't want to know anything about that,' the General said. 'I shall hear enough about it from Paul Sandbach. Give the bobbie a quid and let's hear no more of it. I'm a magistrate.'
'Then what have I done?' Tietjens said. 'I helped those girls to get off. You didn't want to catch them; Waterhouse didn't, the policeman didn't. No one did except the swine. Then what's the matter?'
'Damn it all!' the General said, 'don't you remember that you're a young married man?'
With the respect for the General's superior age and achievements, Tietjens stopped himself laughing.
'If you're really serious, sir,' he said, 'I always remember it very carefully. I don't suppose you're suggesting that I've ever shown want of respect for Sylvia.'
The General shook his head.
'I don't know,' he said. 'And, damn it all, I'm worried. I'm...Hang it all, I'm your father's oldest friend.' The General looked indeed worn and saddened in the light of the sand-drifted, ground-glass windows. He said: 'Was that skirt a...a friend of yours? Had you arranged it with her?'
'Wouldn't it be better, sir, if you said what you had on your mind?...'
The old General blushed a little.
'I don't like to,' he said straightforwardly. 'You brilliant fellow...I only want, my dear boy, to hint that...'
Tietjens said, a little more stiffly:
'I'd prefer you to get it out, sir...I acknowledge your right as my father's oldest friend.'
'Then,' the General burst out, 'who was the skirt you were lolloping up Pall Mall with? On the last day they Trooped the Colour?...I didn't see her myself...Was it this same one? Paul said she looked like a cook maid.'
Tietjens made himself a little more rigid.
'She was, as a matter of fact, a bookmaker's secretary,' Tietjens said. 'I imagine I have the right to walk where I like, with whom I like. And no one has the right to question it...I don't mean you, sir. But no one else.'
The General said puzzledly:
'It's you brilliant fellows...They all say you're brilliant...'
'You might let your rooted distrust of intelligence...It's natural of course; but you might let it allow you to be just to me. I assure you there was nothing discreditable.'
The General interrupted:
'If you were a stupid young subaltern and told me you were showing your mother's new cook the way to the Piccadilly tube, I'd believe you...But, then, no young subaltern would do such a damn, blasted, tomfool thing! Paul said you walked beside her like the king in his glory! Through the crush outside the Haymarket, of all places in the world!'
'I'm obliged to Sandbach for his commendation...' Tietjens said. He thought for a moment. Then he said:
'I was trying to get that young woman...I was taking her out to lunch from her office at the bottom of the Haymarket...To get her off a friend's back. That is, of course, between ourselves.'
He said this with great reluctance because he didn't want to cast reflection on Macmaster's taste, for the young lady had been by no means one to be seen walking with a really circumspect public official. But he had said nothing to indicate. Macmaster, and he had other friends.
The General choked.
'Upon my soul,' he said, 'what do you take me for?' He repeated the words as if he were amazed. 'If,' he said, 'my G.S.O. II--who's the stupidest ass I know--told me such a damn-fool lie as that I'd have him broke to-morrow.' He went on expostulatorily: 'Damn it all, it's the first duty of a soldier--it's the first duty of all Englishmen--to be able to tell a good lie in answer to a charge. But a lie like that..:
He broke off breathless, then he began again:
'Hang it all, I told that lie to my grandmother and my grandfather told it to his grandfather. And they call you brilliant!...' He paused and then asked reproachfully: 'Or do you think I'm in a state of-senile decay?'
'I know you, sir, to be the smartest general of division in the British Army. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why I said what I did...' He had told the exact truth, but he was not sorry to be disbelieved.
The General said:
'Then I'll take it that you tell me a lie meaning me to know that it's a lie. That's quite proper. I take it you mean to keep the woman officially out of it. But look here, Chrissie'--his tone took a deeper seriousness--If the woman that's come between you and Sylvia--that's broken up your home, damn it, for that's what it is!--is little Miss Wannop...'
'Her name was Julia Mandelstein,' Tietjens said.
The General said:
'Yes! Yes! Of course!...But if it is the little Wannop girl and it's not gone too far...Put her back...Put her back, as you used to be a good boy! It would be too hard on the mother...'
'General! I give you my word...'
The General said:
'I'm not asking any questions, my boy; I'm talking now. You've told me the story you want told and it's the story I'll tell for you! But that little piece is...she used to be!...as straight as a die. I daresay you know better than I. Of course when they get among the wild women there's no knowing what happens to them. They say they're all whores...I beg your pardon, if you like the girl...'
'Is Miss Wannop,' Tietjens asked, 'the girl who demonstrates?'
'Sandbach said,' the General went on, 'that he couldn't see from where he was whether that girl was the same as the one in the Haymarket. But he thought it was...He was pretty certain.'
'As he's married your sister,' Tietjens said, 'one can't impugn his taste in women.'
'I say again, I'm not asking,' the General said. 'But I do say again too: put her back. Her father was a great friend of your father's: or your father was a great admirer of his. They say he was the most brilliant brain of the party.'
'Of course I know who Professor Wannop was,' Tietjens said. 'There's nothing you could tell me about him.'
'I daresay not,' the General said drily. 'Then you know that he didn't leave a farthing when he died and the rotten Liberal Government wouldn't put his wife and children on the Civil List because he'd sometimes written for a Tory paper. And you know that the mother has had a deuced hard row to hoe and has only just turned the corner. If she can be said to have turned it. I know Claudine takes them all the peaches she can cadge out of Paul's gardener.'
Tietjens was about to say that Mrs Wannop, the mother, had written the only novel worth reading since the eighteenth century...But the General went on:
'Listen to me, my boy...If you can't get on without women...I should have thought Sylvia was good enough. But I know what we men are...I don't set up to be a saint. I heard a woman in the promenade of the Empire say once that it was the likes of them that saved the lives and figures of all the virtuous women of the country. And I daresay it's true...But choose a girl that you can set up in a tobacco shop and do your courting in the back parlour. Not in the Haymarket...Heaven knows if you can afford it. That's your affair. You appear to have been sold up. And from what Sylvia's let drop to Claudine...'
'I don't believe,' Tietjens said, 'that Sylvia's said anything to Lady Claudine...She's too straight.'
'I didn't say "said,"' the General exclaimed, 'I particularly said "let drop." And perhaps I oughtn't to have said as much as that, but you know what devils for ferreting out women are. And Claudine's worse than any woman I ever knew...'
'And, of course, she's had Sandbach to help,' Tietjens said.
'Oh, that fellow's worse than any woman,' the General exclaimed.
'Then what does the whole indictment amount to?' Tietj ens asked.
'Oh, hang it,' the General brought out, 'I'm not a beastly detective, I only want a plausible story to tell Claudine. Or not even plausible. An obvious lie as long as it shows you're not flying in the face of society--as walking up the Haymarket with the little Wannop when your wife's left you because of her would be.'
'What does it amount to?' Tietjens said patiently: 'What Sylvia "let drop"?'
'Only,' the General answered, 'that you are--that your views are--immoral. Of course they often puzzle me. And, of course, if you have views that aren't the same as other people's, and don't keep them to yourself, other people will suspect you of immorality. That's what put Paul Sandbach on your track!...and that you're extravagant...Oh, hang it...Eternal hansoms, and taxis and telegrams...You know, my boy, times aren't what they were when your father and I married. We used to say you could do it on five hundred a year as a younger son...And then this girl too...' His voice took on a more agitated note of shyness--pain...'It probably hadn't occurred to you...But, of course, Sylvia has an income of her own...And, don't you see...if you outrun the constable and...In short, you're spending Sylvia's money on the other girl, and that's what people can't stand.' He added quickly: 'I'm bound to say that Mrs Satterthwaite backs you through thick and thin. Thick and thin! Claudine wrote to her. But you know what women are with a handsome son-in-law that's always polite to them. But I may tell you that but for your mother-in-law, Claudine would have cut you out of her visiting list months ago. And you'd have been cut out of some others too...
'Thanks. I think that's enough to go on with...Give me a couple of minutes to reflect on what you've said...'
'I'll wash my hands and change my coat,' the General said with intense relief.
At the end of two minutes Tietjens said:
'No; I don't see that there is anything I want to say.' The General exclaimed with enthusiasm:
'That's my good lad! Open confession is next to reform...And...and try to be more respectful to your superiors...Damn it; they say you're brilliant. But I thank heaven I haven't got you in my command...Though I believe you're a good lad. But you're the sort of fellow to set a whole division by the ears...A regular...what's 'is name? A regular Dreyfus!'
'Did you think Dreyfus was guilty?' Tietjens asked.
'Hang it,' the General said, 'he was worse than guilty--the sort of fellow you couldn't believe in and yet couldn't prove anything against. The curse of the world...
'Well, they are,' the General said: 'fellows like that unsettle society. You don't know where you are. You can't judge. They make you uncomfortable...A brilliant fellow too! I believe he's a brigadier-general by now...' He put his arm round Tietjens' shoulders.
'There, there, my dear boy,' he said, 'come and have a sloe gin. That's the real answer to all beastly problems.'
It was some time before Tietjens could get to think of his own problems. The fly that took them back went with the slow pomp of a procession over the winding marsh road in front of the absurdly picturesque red pyramid of the very old town. Tietjens had to listen to the General suggesting that it would be better if he didn't come to the golf-club till Monday. He would get Macmaster some good games. A good, sound fellow that Macmaster now. It was a pity Tietjens hadn't some of his soundness!
Two city men had approached the General on the course and had used some violent invectives against Tietjens: they had objected to being called ruddy swine to their faces: they were going to the police. The General said that he had told them himself, slowly and guiltily, that they were ruddy swine and that they would never get another ticket at that club after Monday. But till Monday, apparently, they had the right to be there and the club wouldn't want scenes. Sandbach, too, was infuriated about Tietjens.
Tietjens said that the fault lay with the times that permitted the introduction into gentlemen's company of such social swipes as Sandbach. One acted perfectly correctly, and then a dirty little beggar like that put dirty little constructions on it and ran about and bleated. He added that he knew Sandbach was the General's brother-in-law, but he couldn't help it. That was the truth...The General said: 'I know, my boy: I know...' But one had to take society as one found it. Claudine had to be provided for and Sandbach made a very good husband, careful, sober, and on the right side in politics. A bit of a rip; but they couldn't ask for everything! And Claudine was using all the influence she had with the other side--which was not a little, women were so wonderful!--to get him a diplomatic job in Turkey, so as to get him out of the way of Mrs Crundall! Mrs Crundall was the leading Anti-Suffragette of the little town. That was what made Sandbach so bitter against Tietjens. He told Tietjens so that Tietjens might understand.
Tietjens had hitherto flattered himself that he could examine a subject swiftly and put it away in his mind. To the General he hardly listened. The allegations against himself were beastly; but he could usually ignore allegations against himself, and he imagined that if he said no more about them he would himself hear no more. And, if there were, in clubs and places where men talk, unpleasant rumours as to himself he preferred it to be thought that he was the rip, not his wife the strumpet. That was normal, male vanity: the preference of the English gentleman! Had it been a matter of Sylvia spotless and himself as spotless as he was--for in all these things he knew himself to be spotless!--he would certainly have defended himself, at least, to the General. But he had acted practically in not defending himself more vigorously. For he imagined that, had he really tried, he could have made the General believe him. But he had behaved rightly! It was not mere vanity. There was the child up at his sister Effie's. It was better for a boy to have a rip of a father than a whore for mother!
The General was expatiating on the solidity of a squat castle, like a pile of draughts, away to the left, in the sun, on the flatness. He was saying that we didn't build like that nowadays.
'You're perfectly wrong, General. All the castles that Henry VIII built in 1543 along this coast are mere monuments of jerry-building..."In 1543 jactat castra Delis, Sandgatto, Reia, Hastingas Henricus Rex"...That means he chucked them down...'
The General laughed:
'You are an incorrigible fellow...If ever there's any known, certain fact...'
'But go and look at the beastly things,' Tietjens said. 'You'll see they've got just a facing of Caen stone that the tide floated here, and the fillings-up are just rubble, any rubbish...Look here! It's a known certain fact, isn't it, that your eighteen-pounders are better than the French seventy-fives. They tell us so in the House, on the hustings, in the papers: the public believes it...But would you put one of your tiny pet things firing--what is it?--four shells a minute?--with the little bent pins in their tails to stop the recoil--against their seventy-fives with the compressed-air cylinders...'
The General sat stiffly upon his cushion:
'That's different,' he said. 'How the devil do you get to know these things?'
'It isn't different,' Tietjens said, 'it's the same muddleheaded frame of mind that sees good building in Henry VIII as lets us into wars with hopelessly antiquated field guns and rottenly inferior ammunition. You'd fire any fellow on your staff who said we could stand up for a minute against the French.'
'Well, anyhow,' the General said, 'I thank heaven you're not on my staff, for you'd talk my hind leg off in a week. It's perfectly true that the public...'
But Tietjens was not listening. He was considering that it was natural for an unborn fellow like Sandbach to betray the solidarity that should exist between men. And it was natural for a childless woman like Lady Claudine Sandbach, with a notoriously, a flagrantly unfaithful husband, to believe in the unfaithfulness of the husbands of other women!
The General was saying:
'Who did you hear that stuff from about the French field gun?'
'From you. Three weeks ago!'
And all the other society women with unfaithful husbands...They must do their best to down and out a man. They would cut him off their visiting lists! Let them. The barren harlots mated to faithless eunuchs...Suddenly he thought that he didn't know for certain that he was the father of his child and he groaned.
'Well, what have I said wrong now?' the General asked. 'Surely you don't maintain that pheasants do eat man-golds...'
Tietjen proved his reputation for sanity with:
'No! I was just groaning at the thought of the Chancellor! That's sound enough for you, isn't it?' But it gave him a nasty turn. He hadn't been able to pigeon-hole and padlock his disagreeable reflections. He had been as good as talking to himself...
In the bow-window of another hostelry than his own he caught the eye of Mr Waterhouse, who was looking at the view over the marshes. The great man beckoned to him and he went in. Mr Waterhouse was aware that Tietjenswhom he assumed to be a man of sense--should get any pursuit of the two girls stopped off. He couldn't move in the matter himself, but a five pound note and possibly a police promotion or so might be handed round if no advertisement were given to the mad women on account of their raid of that afternoon.
It was not a very difficult matter: for where the great man was to be found in the club lounge, there, in the bar, the major, the town clerk, the local head of the police, the doctors and solicitors would be found drinking together. And after it was arranged the great man himself came into the bar, had a drink and pleased them all immensely by his affability...
Tietjens himself, dining alone with the Minister to whom he wanted to talk about his Labour Finance Act, didn't find him a disagreeable fellow: not really foolish, not sly except in his humour, tired obviously, but livening up after a couple of whiskys, and certainly not as yet plutocratic; with tastes for apple-pie and cream of a fourteen-year-old boy. And, even as regards his famous Act, which was then shaking the country to its political foundations, once you accepted its fundamental unsuitedness to the temperament and needs of the English working-class, you could see that Mr Waterhouse didn't want to be dishonest. He accepted with gratitude several of Tietjens' emendations in the actuarial schedules...And over their port they agreed on two fundamental legislative ideals: every working man to have a minimum of four hundred a year and every beastly manufacturer who wanted to pay less to be hung. That, it appeared, was the High Toryism of Tietjens as it was the extreme Radicalism of the extreme Left of the Left...
And Tietjens, who hated no man, in face of this simpleminded and agreeable schoolboy type of fellow, fell to wondering why it was that humanity that was next to always agreeable in its units was, as a mass, a phenomenon so hideous. You look at a dozen men, each of them not by any means detestable and not uninteresting: for each of them would have technical details of their affairs to impart: you formed them into a Government or a club, and at once, with oppressions, inaccuracies, gossip, backbiting, lying, corruption and vileness, you had the combination of wolf, tiger, weasel, and louse-covered ape that was human society. And he remembered the words of some Russian: 'Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.'
Tietjens and Mr Waterhouse spent the rest of the evening together.
Whilst Tietjens was interviewing the policeman, the Minister sat on the front steps of the cottage and smoked cheap cigarettes, and when Tietjens went to bed, Mr Waterhouse insisted on sending by him kindly messages to Miss Wannop, asking her to come and discuss female suffrage any afternoon she liked in his private room at the House of Commons. Mr Waterhouse flatly refused to believe that Tietjens hadn't arranged the raid with Miss Wannop. He said it had been too neatly planned for any woman, and he said Tietjens was a lucky fellow, for she was a ripping girl.
Back in his room under the rafters, Tietj ens fell, nevertheless, at once a prey to real agitation. For a long time he pounded from wall to wall and, since he could not shake off the train of thought, he got out at last his patience cards, and devoted himself seriously to thinking out the conditions of his life with Sylvia. He wanted to stop scandal if he could; he wanted them to live within his income, he wanted to subtract that child from the influence of its mother. These were all definite but difficult things...Then one half of his mind lost itself in the rearrangement of schedules, and on his brilliant table his hands set queens on kings and checked their recurrences.
In that way the sudden entrance of Macmaster gave him a really terrible physical shock. He nearly vomited: his brain reeled and the room fell about. He drank a great quantity of whisky in front of Macmaster's goggling eyes; but even at that he couldn't talk, and he dropped into his bed faintly aware of his friend's efforts to loosen his clothes. He had, he knew, carried the suppression of thought in his conscious mind so far that his unconscious self had taken command and had, for the time, paralysed both his body and his mind.
'It doesn't seem quite fair, Valentine,' Mrs Duchemin said. She was rearranging in a glass bowl some minute flowers that floated on water. They made there, on the breakfast-table, a patch, as it were, of mosaic amongst silver chafing dishes, silver epergnes piled with peaches in pyramids and great silver rose-bowls filled with roses, that drooped to the damask cloth, a congeries of silver largenesses made as if a fortification for the head of the table; two huge silver urns, a great silver kettle on a tripod, and a couple of silver vases filled with the extremely tall blue spikes of delphiniums that, spreading out, made as if a fan. The eighteenth-century room was very tall and long; panelled in darkish wood. In the centre of each of four of the panels, facing the light, hung pictures, a mellowed orange in tone, representing mists and the cordage of ships in mists at sunrise. On the bottom of each large gold frame was a tablet bearing the ascription: 'J. M. W. Turner.' The chairs, arranged along the long table that was set for eight people, had the delicate, spidery, mahogany backs of Chippendale; on the golden mahogany sideboard that had behind it green silk curtains on a brass-rail were displayed an immense, crumbed ham, more peaches on an epergne, a large meat-pie with a varnished crust, another epergne that supported the large pale globes of grapefruit; a galantine, a cube of inlaid meats, encased in thick jelly.
'Oh, women have to back each other up in these days,' Valentine Wannop said. 'I couldn't let you go through this alone after breakfasting with you every Saturday since I don't know when.'
'I do feel,' Mrs Duchemin said, 'immensely grateful to you for your moral support. I ought not, perhaps, to have risked this morning. But I've told Parry to keep him out till 10.15.'
'It's, at any rate, tremendously sporting of you,' the girl said. 'I think it was worth trying.'
Mrs Duchemin, wavering round the table, slightly changed the position of the delphiniums.
'I think they make a good screen,' Mrs Duchemin said.
'Oh, nobody will be able to see him,' the girl answered reassuringly. She added with a sudden resolution, 'Look here, Edie. Stop worrying about my mind. If you think that anything I hear at your table after nine months as an ash-cat at Ealing, with three men in the house, an invalid wife and a drunken cook, can corrupt my mind, you're simply mistaken. You can let your conscience be at rest, and let's say no more about it.'
Mrs Duchemin said, 'Oh, Valentine! How could your mother let you?'
'She didn't know,' the girl said. 'She was out of her mind for grief. She sat for most of the whole nine months with her hands folded before her in a board and lodging house at twenty-five shillings a week, and it took the five shillings a week that I earned to make up the money.' She added, 'Gilbert had to be kept at school of course. And in the holidays, too.'
'I don't understand!' Mrs Duchemin said. 'I simply don't understand.'
'Of course you wouldn't,' the girl answered. 'You're like the kindly people who subscribed at the sale to buy my father's library back and present it to my mother. That cost us five shillings a week for warehousing, and at Ealing they were always nagging at me for the state of my print dresses...'
She broke off and said:
'Let's not talk about it any more, if you don't mind. You have me in your house, so I suppose you've a right to references, as the mistresses call them. But you've been very good to me and never asked. Still, it's come up; do you know I told a man on the links yesterday that I'd been a slavey for nine months. I was trying to explain why I was a suffragette; and, as I was asking him a favour, I suppose I felt I needed to give him references too.'
Mrs Duchemin, beginning to advance towards the girl impulsively, exclaimed:
Miss Wannop said:
'Wait a minute. I haven't finished. I want to say this: I never talk about that stage of my career because I'm ashamed of it. I'm ashamed because I think I did the wrong thing, not for any other reason. I did it on impulse and I stuck to it out of obstinacy. I mean it would probably have been more sensible to go round with the hat to benevolent people, for the keep of mother and to complete my education. But if we've inherited the Wannop ill-luck, we've inherited the Wannop pride. And I couldn't do it. Besides I was only seventeen, and I gave out we were going into the country after the sale. I'm not educated at all, as you know, or only half, because father, being a brilliant man, had ideas. And one of them was that I was to be an athlete, not a classical don at Cambridge, or I might have been, I believe. I don't know why he had that tic...But I'd like you to understand two things. One I've said already: what I hear in this house won't ever shock or corrupt me; that it's said in Latin is neither here nor there. I understand Latin almost as well as English because father used to talk it to me and Gilbert as soon as we talked at all...And, oh yes: I'm a suffragette because I've been a slavey. But I'd like you to understand that, though I was a slavey and am a suffragette--you're an old-fashioned woman and queer things are thought about these two things--then I'd like you to understand that in spite of it all I'm pure! Chaste, you know...Perfectly virtuous.'
Mrs Duchemin said:
'Oh, Valentine! Did you wear a cap and apron? You! In a cap and apron.'
Miss Wannop replied:
'Yes! I wore a cap and apron and sniffled "M'm" to the mistress; and slept under the stairs, too. Because I woud not sleep with the beast of a cook.'
Mrs Duchemin now ran forward and, catching Miss Wannop by both hands, kissed her first on the left and then on the right cheek.
'Oh, Valentine,' she said, 'you're a heroine. And you only twenty-two!...Isn't that the motor coining?' But it wasn't the motor coming and Miss Wannop said: 'Oh, no! I'm not a heroine. When I tried to speak to that Minister yesterday, I just couldn't. It was Gertie who went for him. As for me, I just hopped from one leg to the other and stuttered: "V...V...Votes for W...W...W...omen!" If I'd been decently brave I shouldn't have been too shy to speak to a strange man...For that was what it really came to.'
'But that surely,' Mrs Duchemin said--she continued to hold both the girl's hands--'makes you all the braver...It's the person who does the thing he's afraid of who's the real hero, isn't it?'
'Oh, we used to argue that old thing over with father when we were ten. You can't tell. You've got to define the term brave. I was just abject...I could harangue the whole crowd when I got them together. But speak to one man in cold blood I couldn't...Of course I did speak to a fat golfing idiot with bulging eyes, to get him to save Gertie. But that was different.'
Mrs Duchemin moved both the girl's hands up and down in her own.
'As you know, Valentine,' she said, 'I'm an old-fashioned woman. I believe that woman's true place is at her husband's side. At the same time...'
Miss Wannop moved away.
'Now, don't, Edie, don't!' she said. 'If you believe that, you're an anti. Don't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. It's your defect really...I tell you I'm not a heroine. I dread prison: I hate rows. I'm thankful to goodness that it's my duty to stop and housemaid-typewrite for mother, so that I can't really do things...Look at that miserable, adenoidy little Gertie, hiding upstairs in our garret. She was crying all last night--but that's just nerves. Yet she's been in prison five times, stomach-pumped and all. Not a moment of funk about her!...But as for me, a girl as hard as a rock that prison wouldn't touch...Why, I'm all of a jump now. That's why I'm talking nonsense like a pert schoolgirl. I just dread that every sound may be the police coming for me.'
Mrs Duchemin stroked the girl's fair hair and tucked a loose strand behind her ear.
'I wish you'd let me show you how to do your hair,' she said. 'The right man might come along at any moment.'
'Oh, the right man!' Miss Wannop said. 'Thanks for tactfully changing the subject. The right man for me, when he comes along, will be a married man. That's the Wannop luck!'
Mrs Duchemin said, with deep concern:
'Don't talk like that...Why should you regard yourself as being less lucky than other people? Surely your mother's done well. She has a position; she makes money...'
'Ah, but mother isn't a Wannop,' the girl said, 'only by marriage. The real Wannops...they've been executed, and attaindered, and falsely accused and killed in carriage accidents and married adventurers or died penniless like father. Ever since the dawn of history. And then, mother's got her mascot...'
'Oh, what's that?' Mrs Duchemin asked, almost with animation, 'a relic...?
'Don't you know mother's mascot?' the girl asked. 'She tells everybody...Don't you know the story of the man with the champagne? How mother was sitting contemplating suicide in her bed-sitting-room and there came in a man with a name like Tea-tray; she always calls him the mascot and asks us to remember him as such in our prayers...He was a man who'd been at a German university with father years before and loved him very dearly; but had not kept touch with him. And he'd been out of England for nine months when father died and round about it. And he said: "Now, Mrs Wannop, what's this?" And she told him. And he said, "What you want is champagne!" And he sent the slavey out with a sovereign for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. And he broke the neck of the bottle off against the mantelpiece because they were slow in bringing an opener. And he stood over her while she drank half the bottle out of her toothglass. And he took her out to lunch...o...o...oh, it's cold!...And lectured her...And got her a job to write leaders on a paper he had shares in...'
Mrs Duchemin said:
'I know I am,' the girl said. She went on very fast. 'And of course, mother always wrote father's articles for him. He found the ideas, but couldn't write, and she's a splendid style...And, since then, he--the mascot--Teatray--has always turned up when she's been in tight places. Then the paper blew her up and threatened to dismiss her for inaccuracies! She's frightfully inaccurate. And he wrote her out a table of things every leader-writer must know, such as that "A. Ebor" is the Archbishop of York, and that the Government is Liberal. And one day he turned up and said: "Why don't you write a novel on that story you told me?" And he lent her the money to buy the cottage we're in now, to be quiet and write in...Oh, I can't go on!'
Miss Wannop burst into tears.
'It's thinking of those beastly days,' she said. 'And that beastly, beastly yesterday!' She ran the knuckles of both her hands fiercely into her eyes, and determinedly eluded Mrs Duchemin's handkerchief and embraces. She said almost contemptuously:
'A nice, considerate person I am. And you with this ordeal hanging over you! Do you suppose I don't appreciate all your silent heroism of the home, while we're marching about with flags and shouting? But it's just to stop women like you being tortured, body and soul, week in, week out, that we...'
Mrs Duchemin had sat down on a chair near one of the windows; she had her handkerchief hiding her face.
'Why women in your position don't take lovers...' the girl said hotly. 'Or that women in your position do take lovers...'
Mrs Duchemin looked up; in spite of its tears her white face had an air of serious dignity:
'Oh, no, Valentine,' she said, using her deeper tones. 'There's something beautiful, there's something thrilling about chastity. I'm not narrow-minded. Censorious! I don't condemn! But to preserve in word, thought and action a lifelong fidelity...It's no mean achievement...'
'You mean like an egg and spoon race,' Miss Wannop said.
'It isn't,' Mrs Duchemin replied gently, 'the way I should have put it. Isn't the real symbol Atalanta, running fast and not turning aside for the golden apple? That always seemed to me the real truth hidden in the beautiful old legend...'
'I don't know,' Miss Wannop said, 'when I read what Ruskin says about it in the Crown of Wild Olive. Or no! It's the Queen of the Air. That's his Greek rubbish, isn't it? I always think it seems like an egg-race in which the young woman didn't keep her eyes in the boat. But I suppose it comes to the same thing.'
Mrs Duchemin said:
'My dear! Not a word against John Ruskin in this house!'
Miss Wannop screamed.
An immense voice had shouted:
'This way! This way...The ladies will be here!'
Of Mr Duchemin's curates--he had three of them, for he had three marshland parishes almost without stipend, so that no one but a very rich clergyman could have held them--it was observed that they were all very large men with the physiques rather of prize-fighters than of clergy. So that when by any chance at dusk, Mr Duchemin, who himself was of exceptional stature, and his three assistants went together along a road the hearts of any malefactors whom in the mist they chanced to encounter went pit-apat.
Mr Horsley--the number two--had in addition an enormous voice. He shouted four or five words, interjected tee-hee, shouted four or five words more and again interjected tee-hee. He had enormous wrist-bones that protruded from his clerical cuffs, an enormous Adam's apple, a large, thin, close-cropped, colourless face like a skull, with very sunken eyes, and when he was once started speaking it was impossible to stop him, because his own voice in his ears drowned every possible form of interruption.
This morning, as an inmate of the house, introducing to the breakfast-room Messrs Tietj ens and Macmaster, who had driven up to the steps just as he was mounting them, he had a story to tell. The introduction was, therefore, not, as such, a success...
'A STATE OF SIEGE, LADIES! Tee-hee!' he alternately roared and giggled. 'We're living in a regular state of siege...What with...' It appeared that the night before, after dinner, Mr Sandbach and rather more than half a dozen of the young bloods who had dined at Mountby, had gone scouring the country lanes, mounted on motor bicycles and armed with loaded canes...for suffragettes! Every woman they had come across in the darkness they had stopped, abused, threatened with their loaded canes and subjected to cross-examination. The countryside was up in arms.
As a story this took, with the appropriate reflections and repetitions, a long time in telling, and afforded Tietjens and Miss Wannop the opportunity of gazing at each other. Miss Wannop was frankly afraid that this large, clumsy, unusual-looking man, now that he had found her again, might hand her over to the police whom she imagined to be searching for herself and her friend Gertie, Miss Wilson, at that moment in bed, under the care, as she also imagined, of Mrs Wannop. On the links he had seemed to her natural and in place; here, with his loosely hung clothes and immense hands, the white patch on the side of his rather cropped head and his masked, rather shapeless features, he affected her queerly as being both in and out of place. He seemed to go with the ham, the meat-pie, the galantine and even at a pinch with the roses; but the Turner pictures, the aesthetic curtain and Mrs Duchemin's flowing robes, amber and rose in the hair, did not go with him at all. Even the Chippendale chairs hardly did. And she felt herself thinking oddly, beneath her perturbations, of a criminal and the voice of the Rev. Mr Horsley that his Harris tweeds went all right with her skirt, and she was glad that she had on a clean, cream-coloured silk blouse, not a striped pink cotton.
She was right as to that.
In every man there are two minds that work side by side, the one checking the other; thus emotion stands against reason, intellect corrects passion and first impressions act just a little, but very little, before quick reflection. Yet first impressions have always a bias in their favour, and even quiet reflection has often a job to efface them.
The night before, Tietjens had given several thoughts to this young woman. General Campion had assigned her to him as maîtresse du titre. He was said to have ruined himself, broken up his home and spent his wife's money on her. Those were lies. On the other hand they were not inherent impossibilities. Upon occasion and given the right woman, quite sound men have done such things. He might, heaven knows, himself be so caught. But that he should have ruined himself over an unnoticeable young female who had announced herself as having been a domestic servant, and wore a pink cotton blouse...that had seemed to go beyond the bounds of even the unreason of club gossip!
That was the strong, first impression! It was all very well for his surface mind to say that the girl was not by birth a tweeny maid; she was the daughter of Professor Wannop and she could jump! For Tietjens held very strongly the theory that what finally separated the classes was that the upper could lift its feet from the ground whilst common people couldn't.
...But the strong impression remained. Miss Wannop was a tweeny maid. Say a lady's help, by nature. She was of good family, for the Wannops were first heard of at Birdlip in Gloucestershire in the year 1417--no doubt enriched after Agincourt. But even brilliant men of good family will now and then throw daughters who are lady helps by nature. That was one of the queernesses of heredity...And, though Tietjens had even got as far as to realize that Miss. Wannop must be a heroine who had sacrificed her young years to her mother's gifts, and no doubt to a brother at school--for he had guessed as far as that--even then Tietjens couldn't make her out as more than a lady help. Heroines are all very well; admirable, they may even be saints; but if they let themselves get
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Publication Date: 05-23-2014
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