Debits and Credits
IT is narrated (and God knows best the true state of the case) by Abu Ali Jafir Bin Yakub-ul-Isfahani that when, in His determinate Will, The Benefactor had decided to create the Greatest Substitute (Adam), He despatched, as is known, the faithful and the excellent Archangel Jibrail to gather from Earth clays, loams, and sands endowed with various colours and attributes, necessary for the substance of our pure Forefather’s body. Receiving the Command and reaching the place, Jibrail put forth his hand to take them, but Earth shook and lamented and supplicated him. Then said Jibrail: ‘Lie still and rejoice, for out of thee He will create that than which (there) is no handsomer thing — to wit a Successor and a Wearer of the Diadem over thee through the ages.’ Earth said: ‘I adjure thee to abstain from thy purpose, lest evil and condemnation of that person who is created out of me should later overtake him, and the Abiding (sorrow) be loosed upon my head. I have no power to resist the Will of the Most High, but I take refuge with Allah from thee.’ So Jibrail was moved by the lamentations and helplessness of Earth, and returned to the Vestibule of the Glory with an empty hand.
After this, by the Permission, the Just and Terrible Archangel Michael next descended, and he, likewise, hearing and seeing the abjection of Earth, returned with an empty hand. Then was sent the Archangel Azrael, and when Earth had once again implored God, and once again cried out, he closed his hand upon her bosom and tore out the clays and sands necessary.
Upon his return to the Vestibule it was asked if Earth had again taken refuge with Allah or not? Azrael said: ‘Yes.’ It was answered ‘If it took refuge with Me why didst thou not spare?’ Azrael answered: ‘Obedience (to Thee) was more obligatory than Pity (for it).’ It was answered: ‘Depart! I have made thee the Angel of Death to separate the souls from the bodies of men.’ Azrael wept, saying: ‘Thus shall all men hate me.’ It was answered: ‘Thou hast said that Obedience is more obligatory than Pity. Mix thou the clays and the sands and lay them to dry between Tayif and Mecca till the time appointed.’ So, then, Azrael departed and did according to the Command. But in his haste he perceived not that he had torn out from Earth clays and minerals that had lain in her at war with each other since the first; nor did he withdraw them and set them aside. And in his grief that he should have been decreed the Separator of Companions, his tears mingled with them in the mixing, so that the substance of Adam’s body was made unconformable and ill-assorted, pierced with burning drops, and at issue with itself before there was (cause of) strife.
This, then, lay out to dry for forty years between Tayif and Mecca and, through all that time, the Beneficence of the Almighty leavened it and rained upon it the Mercy and the Blessing, and the properties necessary to the adornment of the Successorship. In that period, too, it is narrated that the Angels passed to and fro above it, and among them Eblis the Accursed, who smote the predestined Creation while it was drying, and it rang hollow. Eblis then looked more closely and observing that of which it was composed to be diverse and ill-assorted and impregnated with bitter tears, he said: ‘Doubt not I shall soon attain authority over this; and his ruin shall be easy.’ (This, too, lay in the foreknowledge of The Endless.)
When time was that the chain of cause and effect should be surrendered to Man’s will, and the vessels of desire and intention entrusted to his intelligence, and the tent of his body illuminated by the lamp of vitality, the Soul was despatched, by Command of the Almighty, with the Archangel Jibrail, towards that body. But the Soul being thin and subtle refused, at first, to enter the thick and diverse clays, saying: ‘I have fear of that (which is) to be.’ This it cried twice, till it received the Word: ‘Enter unwillingly, and unwillingly depart.’ Then only it entered. And when that agony was accomplished, the Word came: ‘My Compassion exceedeth My Wrath.’ It is narrated that these were the first words of which our pure Forefather had cognisance.
Afterwards, by the operation of the determinate Will, there arose in Adam a desire for a companion, and an intimate and a friend in the Garden of the Tree. It is narrated that he first took counsel of Earth (which had furnished) his body. Earth said: ‘Forbear. Is it not enough that one should have dominion over me?’ Adam answered: ‘There is but one who is One in Earth or Heaven. All paired things point to the Unity, and my soul, which came not from thee, desires unutterably.’ Earth said: ‘Be content in innocence, and let thy body, which I gave unwillingly, return thus to (me) thy mother.’ Adam said: ‘I am motherless. What should I know?’
At that time came Eblis the Accursed who had long prepared an evil stratagem and a hateful device against our pure Forefather, being desirous of his damnation, and anxious to multiply causes and occasions thereto. He addressed first his detestable words to the Peacock among the birds of the Garden, saying: ‘I have great amity towards thee because of thy beauty; but, through no fault of mine, I am forbidden the Garden. Hide me, then, among thy tail-feathers that I may enter it, and worship both thee and our Lord Adam, who is Master of thee.’ The Peacock said: ‘Not by any contrivance of mine shaft thou enter, lest a judgment fall on my beauty and my excellence. But there is in the Garden a Serpent of loathsome aspect who shall make thy path easy.’ He then despatched the Serpent to the Gate and after conversation and by contrivance and a malign artifice, Eblis hid himself under the tongue of the Serpent, and was thus conveyed past the barrier. He then worshipped Adam and ceased not to counsel him to demand a companion and an intimate that the delights might be increased, and the succession assured to the Regency of Earth. For he foresaw that, among multitudes, many should come to him. Adam therefore made daily supplication for that blessing. It was answered him: ‘How knowest thou if the gratification of thy desire be a blessing or a curse?’ Adam said: ‘By no means; but I will abide the chance.’
Then the somnolence fell upon him, as is narrated; and upon waking he beheld our Lady Eve (upon whom be the Mercy and the Forgiveness). Adam said: ‘O my Lady and Light of my Universe, who art thou?’ Eve said: ‘O my Lord and Summit of my Contentment, who art thou?’ Adam said: ‘Of a surety I am thine.’ Eve said: ‘Of a surety I am throe.’ Thus they ceased to inquire further into the matter, but were united, and became one flesh and one soul, and their felicity was beyond comparison or belief or imagination or apprehension.
Thereafter, it is narrated that Eblis the Stoned consorted with them secretly in the Garden, and the Peacock with him; and they jested and made mirth for our Lord Adam and his Lady Eve and propounded riddles and devised occasions for the stringing of the ornaments and the threading of subtleties. And upon a time when their felicity was at its height, and their happiness excessive, and their contentment expanded to the uttermost, Eblis said: ‘O my Master and my Mistress, declare to us, if it pleases, some comparison or similitude that lies beyond the limits of possibility.’ Adam said: ‘This is easy. That the Sun should cease in Heaven or that the Rivers should dry in the Garden is beyond the limits of possibility.’ And they laughed and agreed, and the Peacock said: ‘O our Lady, tell us now something of a jest as unconceivable and as beyond belief as this saying of thy Lord.’ Our Lady Eve then said: ‘That my Lord should look upon me otherwise than is his custom is beyond this saying.’ And when they had laughed abundantly, she said: ‘O our Servitors, tell us now something that is further from possibility or belief than my saying.’ Then the Peacock said: ‘O our Lady Eve, except that thou shouldst look upon thy Lord otherwise than is thy custom, there is nothing further than thy saying from possibility or belief or imagination.’ Then said Eblis: ‘Except that the one of you should be made an enemy to the other, there is nothing, O my Lady, further than thy saying from possibility, or belief, or imagination, or apprehension.’ And they laughed immoderately all four together in the Garden.
But when the Peacock had gone and Eblis had seemed to depart, our Lady Eve said to Adam ‘My Lord and Disposer of my Soul, by what means did Eblis know our fear?’ Adam said: ‘0 my Lady, what fear?’ Eve said: ‘The fear which was in our hearts from the first, that the one of us might be made an enemy to the other.’ Then our pure Forefather bowed his head on her bosom and said: ‘O Companion of my Heart, this has been my fear also from the first, but how didst thou know?’ Eve said: ‘Because I am thy flesh and thy soul. What shall we do?’
Thus, then, they came at moonrise to the Tree that had been forbidden to them, and Eblis lay asleep under it. But he waked merrily and said ‘O my Master and my Mistress, this is the Tree of Eternity. By eating her fruit, felicity is established for ever among mankind; nor after eating it shall there be any change whatever in the disposition of the hearts of the eaters.’
Eve then put out her hand to the fruit, but Adam said: ‘It is forbidden. Let us go.’ Eve said: ‘O my Lord and my Sustainer, upon my head be it, and upon the heads of my daughters after me. I will first taste of this Tree, and if misfortune fall on me, do thou intercede for me; or else eat likewise, so that eternal bliss may come to us together.’
Thus she ate, and he after her; and at once the ornaments of Paradise disappeared from round them, and they were delivered to shame and nudity and abjection. Then, as is narrated, Adam accused Eve in the Presence; but our Lady Eve (upon whom be the Pity and the Recompense) accepted (the blame of) all that had been done.
When the Serpent and the Peacock had each received their portion for their evil contrivances (for the punishment of Eblis was reserved) the Divine Decree of Expulsion was laid upon Adam and Eve in these words: ‘Get ye down, the one of you an enemy to the other.’ Adam said: ‘But I have heard that Thy Compassion exceeds Thy Wrath.’ It was answered: ‘I have spoken. The Decree shall stand in the place of all curses.’ So they went down, and the barriers of the Garden of the Tree were made fast behind them.
It is further recorded by the stringers of the pearls of words and the narrators of old, that when our pure Forefather the Lord Adam and his adorable consort Eve (upon whom be the Glory and the Sacrifice) were thus expelled, there was lamentation among the beasts in the Garden whom Adam had cherished and whom our Lady Eve had comforted. Of those unaffected there remained only the Mole, whose custom it was to burrow in earth and to avoid the light of the Sun. His nature was malignant and his body inconspicuous, but, by the Power of the Omnipotent, Whose Name be exalted, he was then adorned with eyes far-seeing both in the light and the darkness.
When the Mole heard the Divine Command of Expulsion, it entered his impure mind that he would extract profit and advancement from a secret observation and a hidden espial. So he followed our Forefather and his august consort, under the earth, and watched those two in their affliction and their abjection and their misery, and the Garden was without his presence for that time.
When his watch was complete and his observation certain, he turned him swiftly underneath the earth and came back saying to the Guardians of the Gate: ‘Make room! I have a sure and a terrible report.’ So his passage was permitted, and he lay till evening in the Garden. Then he said: ‘Can the Accursed by any means escape the Decree?’ It was answered: ‘By no means can they escape or avoid.’ Then the Mole said ‘But I have seen that they have escaped.’ It was answered: ‘Declare thy observation.’ The Mole said: ‘The enemies to each other have altogether departed from Thy worship and Thy adoration. Nor are they in any sort enemies to each other, for they enjoy together the most perfect felicity, and moreover they have made them a new God.’ It was answered: ‘Declare the shape of the God.’ The Mole said: ‘Their God is of small stature, pinkish in colour, unclothed, fat and smiling. They lay it upon the grass and, filling its hands with flowers, worship it and desire no greater comfort.’ It was answered: ‘Declare the name of the God.’ The Mole said: ‘Its name is Quabil (Cain), and I testify upon a sure observation that it is their God and their Uniter and their Comforter.’ It was answered: ‘Why hast thou come to Us?’ The Mole said: ‘Through my zeal and my diligence; for honour and in hope of reward.’ It was answered: ‘Is this, then, the best that thou canst do with the eyes which We gave thee?’ The Mole said: ‘To the extreme of my ability!’ It was answered: ‘There is no need. Thou hast not added to their burden, but to thine own. Be darkened henceforward, upon earth and under earth. It is not good to spy upon any creature of God to whom alleviation is permitted.’ So, then, the Mole’s eyes were darkened and contracted, and his lot was made miserable upon and under the earth to this day.
But to those two, Adam and Eve, the alleviation was permitted, till Habil and Quabil and their sisters Labuda and Aqlemia had attained the age of maturity. Then there came to the Greatest Substitute and his Consort, from out of Kabul the Stony, that Peacock, by whose contrivance Eblis the Accursed had first obtained admission into the Garden of the Tree. And they made him welcome in all their ways and into all their imaginings; and he sustained them with false words and flagitious counsels, so that they considered and remembered their forfeited delights in the Garden both arrogantly and impenitently.
Then came the Word to the Archangel Jibrail the Faithful, saying: ‘Follow those two with diligence, and interpose the shield of thy benevolence where it shall be necessary; for though We have surrendered them for awhile (to Eblis) they shall not achieve an irremediable destruction.’ Jibrail therefore followed our First Substitute and the Lady Eve — upon whom is the Grace and a Forgetfulness — and kept watch upon them in all the lands appointed for their passage through the world. Nor did he hear any lamentations in their mouths for their sins. It is recorded that for an hundred years they were continuously upheld by the Peacock under the detestable power of Eblis the Stoned, who by means of magic multiplied the similitudes of meat and drink and rich raiment about them for their pleasure, and came daily to worship them as Gods. (This also lay in the predestined Will of the Inscrutable.) Further, in that age, their eyes were darkened and their minds were made turbid, and the faculty of laughter was removed from them. The Excellent Archangel Jibrail, when he perceived by observation that they had ceased to laugh, returned and bowed himself among the Servitors and cried: ‘The last evil has fallen upon Thy creatures whom I guard! They have ceased to laugh and are made even with the ox and the camel.’ It was answered: ‘This also was foreseen. Keep watch.’
After yet another hundred years Eblis, whose doom is assured, came to worship Adam as was his custom and said: ‘O my Lord and my Advancer and my Preceptor in Good and Evil, whom hast thou ever beheld in all thy world, wiser and more excellent than thyself?’ Adam said: ‘I have never seen such an one.’ Eblis asked: ‘Hast thou ever conceived of such an one?’ Adam answered: ‘Except in dreams I have never conceived of such an one.’ Eblis then answered: ‘Disregard dreams. They proceed from superfluity of meat. Stretch out thy hand upon the world which thou hast made and take possession.’ So Adam took possession of the mountains which he had levelled and of the rivers which he had diverted and of the upper and lower Fires which he had made to speak and to work for him, and he named them as possessions for himself and his children for ever. After this, Eblis asked: ‘O, my Upholder and Crown of my Belief, who has given thee these profitable things?’ Adam said: ‘By my Hand and my Head, I alone have given myself these things.’ Eblis said: ‘Praise we the Giver!’ So, then, Adam praised himself in a loud voice, and built an Altar and a Mirror behind the Altar; and he ceased not to adore himself in the Mirror, and to extol himself daily before the Altar, by the name and under the attributes of the Almighty.
After yet another hundred years, the Omnipotent, Whose Name be exalted, put a bitter remorse into the bosom of the Peacock, and that bird closed his tail and wept upon the mountains of Serendib. Then said the Excellent and Faithful Archangel Jibrail: ‘How has the Vengeance overtaken thee, O thou least desirable of fowl?’ The Peacock said: ‘Though I myself would by no means consent to convey Eblis into the Garden of the Tree, yet as is known to thee and to the All–Seeing, I referred him to the Serpent for a subtle device, by whose malice and beneath whose tongue did Eblis secretly enter that Garden. Wherefore did Allah change my attuned voice to a harsh cry and my beauteous legs to unseemly legs, and hurled me into the district of Kabul the Stony. Now I fear that He will also deprive me of my tail, which is the ornament of my days and the delight of my eye. For that cause and in that fear I am penitent, O Servant of God.’ Jibrail then said: ‘Penitence lies not in confession, but in restitution and visible amendment.’ The Peacock said: ‘Enlighten me in that path and prove my sincerity.’ Jibrail said: ‘I am troubled on account of Adam who, through the impure magic of Eblis, has departed from humility, and worships himself daily at an Altar and before a Mirror, in such and such a manner.’ The Peacock said: ‘O Courier of the Thrones, hast thou taken counsel of the Lady Eve?’ Jibrail asked: ‘For what reason?’ The Peacock said: ‘For the reason that when the Decree of Expulsion was issued against those two, it was said: “Get ye down, the one of you an enemy unto the other,” and this is a sure word.’ Jibrail answered: ‘What will that profit?’ The Peacock said: ‘Let us exchange our shapes for a time and I will show thee that profit.’
Jibrail then exacted an oath from the Peacock that he would return him his shape at the expiration of a certain time without dishonour or fraud, and the exchange was effected, and Jibrail retired himself into the shape of the Peacock, and the Peacock lifted himself into the illustrious similitude of Jibrail and came to our Lady Eve and said: ‘Who is God?’ The Lady Eve answered him: ‘His name is Adam.’ The Peacock said: ‘How is he God?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘For that he knows both Good and Evil.’ The Peacock asked: ‘By what means attained he to that knowledge?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘Of a truth it was I who brought it to him between my hands from off a Tree in the Garden.’ The Peacock said: ‘The greater then thy modesty and thy meekness, O my Lady Eve,’ and he removed himself from her presence, and came again to Jibrail a little before the time of the evening prayer. He said to that excellent and trusty one: ‘Continue, I pray, to serve in my shape at the time of the Worship at the Altar.’ So Jibrail consented and preened himself and spread his tail and pecked between his claws, after the manner of created Peacocks, before the Altar until the entrance of our pure Forefather and his august consort. Then he perceived by observation that when Adam kneeled at the Mirror to adore himself the Lady Eve abode unwillingly, and in time she asked: ‘Have I then no part in this worship?’ Adam answered: ‘A great and a redoubtable part bast thou, O my Lady, which is to praise and worship me constantly.’ The Lady Eve said: ‘But I weary of this worship. Except thou build me an Altar and make a Mirror to me also I will in no wise be present at this worship, nor in thy bed.’ And she withdrew her presence. Adam then said to Jibrail whom he esteemed to be the Peacock: ‘What shall we do? If I build not an Altar, the Woman who walks by my side will be a reproach to me by day and a penance by night, and peace will depart from the earth.’ Jibrail answered, in the voice of the Peacock: ‘For the sake of Peace on earth build her also an Altar.’ So they built an Altar with a Mirror in all respects conformable to the Altar which Adam had made, and Adam made proclamation from the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth that there were now two Gods upon earth — the one Man, and the other Woman.
Then came the Peacock in the likeness of Jibrail to the Lady Eve and said: ‘O Lady of Light, why is thy Altar upon the left hand and the Altar of my Lord upon the right?’ The Lady Eve said: ‘It is a remediable error,’ and she remedied it with her own hands, and our pure Forefather fell into a great anger. Then entered Jibrail in the likeness of the Peacock and said to Adam: ‘O my Lord and Very Interpreter, what has vexed thee?’ Adam said: ‘What shall we do? The Woman who sleeps in my bosom has changed the honourable places of the Altars, and if I suffer not the change she will weary me by night and day, and there will be no refreshment upon earth.’ Jibrail said, speaking in the voice of the Peacock: ‘For the sake of refreshment suffer the change.’ So they worshipped at the changed Altars, the Altar to the Woman upon the right, and to the Man upon the left.
Then came the Peacock, in the similitude of Jibrail the Trusty One, to our Lady Eve and said: ‘O Incomparable and All–Creating, art thou by chance the mother of Quabil and Habil (Cain and Abel)?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘By no chance but by the immutable ordinance of Nature am I their Mother.’ The Peacock said, in the voice of Jibrail: ‘Will they become such as Adam?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘Of a surety, and many more also.’ The Peacock, as Jibrail, said: ‘O Lady of Abundance, enlighten me now which is the greater, the mother or the child?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘Of a surety, the mother.’ The disguised Peacock then said: ‘O my Lady, seeing that from thee alone proceed all the generations of Man who calls himself God, what need of any Altar to Man?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘It is an error. Doubt not it shall be rectified,’ and at the time of the Worship she smote down the left-hand Altar. Adam said: ‘Why is this, O my Lady and my Co-equal?’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘Because it has been revealed that in Me is all excellence and increase, splendour, terror, and power. Bow down and worship.’ Adam answered: ‘O my Lady, but thou art Eve my mate and no sort of goddess whatever. This have I known from the beginning. Only for Peace’ sake I suffered thee to build an Altar to thyself.’ The Lady Eve answered: ‘O my Lord, but thou art Adam my mate, and by many universes removed from any sort of Godhead, and this have I known from the first. Nor for the sake of any peace whatever will I cease to proclaim it.’ She then proclaimed it aloud, and they reproached each other and disputed and betrayed their thoughts and their inmost knowledges until the Peacock lifted himself in haste from their presence and came to Jibrail and said: ‘Let us return each to his own shape; for Enlightenment is at hand.’
So restitution was made without fraud or dishonour and they returned to the temple each in his proper shape with his attributes, and listened to the end of that conversation between the First Substitute and his august Consort who ceased not to reprehend each other upon all matters within their observation and their experience and their imagination.
When the steeds of recrimination had ceased to career across the plains of memory, and when the drum of evidence was no longer beaten by the drumstick of malevolence, and the bird of argument had taken refuge in the rocks of silence, the Excellent and Trustworthy Archangel Jibrail bowed himself before our pure Forefather and said: ‘O my Lord and Fount of all Power and Wisdom, is it permitted to worship the Visible God?’
Then by the operation of the Mercy of Allah, the string was loosed in the throat of our First Substitute and the oppression was lifted from his lungs and he laughed without cessation and said: ‘By Allah, I am no God but the mate of this most detestable Woman whom I love, and who is necessary to me beyond all the necessities.’ But he ceased not to entertain Jibrail with tales of the follies and the unreasonableness of our Lady Eve till the night time.
The Peacock also bowed before the Lady Eve and said: ‘Is it permitted to adore the Source and the Excellence?’ and the string was loosened in the Lady Eve’s throat and she laughed aloud and merrily and said: ‘By Allah I am no goddess in any sort, but the mate of this mere Man whom, in spite of all, I love beyond and above my soul.’ But she detained the Peacock with tales of the stupidity and the childishness of our pure Forefather till the Sun rose.
Then Adam entered, and the two looked upon each other laughing. Then said Adam: ‘O my Lady and Crown of my Torments, is it peace between us?’ And our Lady Eve answered: ‘O my Lord and sole Cause of my Unreason, it is peace till the next time and the next occasion.’ And Adam said: ‘I accept, and I abide the chance.’ Our Lady Eve said: ‘O Man, wouldst thou have it otherwise upon any composition?’ Adam said: ‘O Woman, upon no composition would I have it otherwise — not even for the return to the Garden of the Tree; and this I swear on thy head and the heads of all who shall proceed from thee.’ And Eve said: ‘I also.’ So they removed both Altars and laughed and built a new one between.
Then Jibrail and the Peacock departed and prostrated themselves before the Throne and told what had been said. It was answered: ‘How left ye them?’ They said: ‘Before one Altar.’ It was answered: ‘What was written upon the Altar?’ They said: ‘The Decree of Expulsion as it was spoken —“Get ye down, the one of you an enemy unto the other.”’
‘Good man!’ said Portson. ‘Now, this is serious, Henri. We put ourselves unreservedly in your hands. We’re weather-beaten mariners — though we don’t look it, and we haven’t eaten a Chrihristian meal in months. Have you thought of all that, Henri, mon ami?’
It was more than a year since Portson — of Portson, Peake and Ensell, Stock and Share Brokers — had drawn Henri’s attention to an apparently extinct Oil Company which, a little later, erupted profitably; and it may be that Henri prided himself on paying all debts in full.
The most recent foreign millionaire and the even more recent foreign actress at a table near the entrance clamoured for his attention while he convoyed the party to the pink alcove. With his own hands he turned out some befrilled electrics and lit four pale rose-candles.
‘So glad you like. There is nothing too good.’ Henri slid away, and the four men sat down. They had the coarse-grained complexions of men who habitually did themselves well, and an air, too, of recent, red-eyed dissipation. Maddingham, the eldest, was a thick-set middle-aged presence, with crisped grizzled hair, of the type that one associates with Board Meetings. He limped slightly. Tegg, who followed him, blinking, was neat, small, and sandy, of unmistakable Navy cut, but sheepish aspect. Winchmore, the youngest, was more on the lines of the conventional prewar ‘nut,’ but his eyes were sunk in his head and his hands black-nailed and roughened. Portson, their host, with Vandyke beard and a comfortable little stomach, beamed upon them as they settled to their oysters.
‘That’s what I mean,’ said the carrying voice of the foreign actress, whom Henri had just disabused of the idea that she had been promised the pink alcove. ‘They ain’t alive to the war yet. Now, what’s the matter with those four dubs yonder joining the British Army or — or doing something?’
‘I’ve forgotten her name for the minute,’ Portson replied, ‘but she’s the latest thing in imported patriotic piece-goods. She sings “Sons of the Empire, Go Forward!” at the Palemseum. It makes the aunties weep.’
‘Not the least use,’ the boy retorted. ‘I’ve just been made a full-lootenant. I have indeed. I couldn’t reconcile it with my conscience to take Etheldreda out any more as a plain sub. She’s too flat in the floor.’
‘‘Henri’s nephew, monsieur,’ the smiling waiter replied, and laid a gloved hand on the table. It creaked corkily at the wrist. ‘Bethisy-sur-Oise,’ he explained. ‘My uncle he buy me all the hand for Christmas. It is good to hold plates only.’
‘Amen! Amen!’ they answered between gulps that heralded the sole a la Colbert. Maddingham picked up the menu. ‘Supreame of chicken,’ he read loudly. ‘Filet bearnaise, Woodcock and Richebourg ‘74, Peaches Melba, Croutes Baron. I couldn’t have improved on it myself; though one might,’ he went on —‘one might have substituted quail en casserole for the woodcock.’
‘Oh, but that chap’s a friend of mine!’ cried Winchmore. ‘I ran across him — the — not so long ago, hugging the Scotch coast-out of his course, he said, owing to foul weather and a new type of engine — a Diesel. That’s him, ain’t it — the complete neutral?’ He mentioned an outstanding peculiarity of the ship’s rig.
‘No. There’d been a bit of a blow the day before and old Ethel’s only dinghy had dropped off the hooks. But he signalled me all his symptoms. He was as communicative as — as a lady in the Promenade. (Hold on, Nephew of my Uncle! I’m going to have some more of that Bearnaise fillet.) His smell attracted me. I chaperoned him for a couple of days.’
‘I didn’t complain. If he chose to hug things, ‘twasn’t any of my business. I’m not a Purity League. ‘Didn’t care what he hugged, so long as I could lie behind him and give him first chop at any mines that were going. I steered in his wake (I really can steer a bit now, Portson) and let him stink up the whole of the North Sea. I thought he might come in useful for bait. No Burgundy, thanks, Nephew of my Uncle. I’m sticking to the Jolly Roger.’
Winchmore nodded. ‘But I didn’t worry about that. I was under his stern. As luck ‘ud have it, there was a fishing-party in the bay, and we walked slam into the middle of ’em — a most ungodly collection of local talent. ‘First thing I knew a steam-launch fell aboard us, and a boya nasty little Navy boy, Tegg — wanted to know what I was doing. I told him, and he cursed me for putting the fish down just as they were rising. Then the two of us (he was hanging on to my quarter with a boat-hook) drifted on to a steam trawler and our friend the Neutral and a ten-oared cutter full of the military, all mixed up. They were subs from the garrison out for a lark. Uncle Newt explained over the rail about the weather and his engine-troubles, but they were all so keen to carry on with their fishing, they didn’t fuss. They told him to clear off.’
‘Oh, they spun me the usual yarns about the water being thick with ’em, and asked me to help; but I couldn’t stop. The cutter’s stern-sheets were piled up with mines, like lobster-pots, and from the way the soldiers handled ’em I thought I’d better get out. So did Uncle Newt. He didn’t like it a bit. There were a couple of shots fired at something just as we cleared the Head, and one dropped rather close to him. (These duck-shoots in the dark are dam’ dangerous, y ‘know.) He lit up at once — tail-light, head-light, and side-lights. I had no more trouble with him the rest of the night.’
‘What! You don’t mean to say that little beast of a snotty reported it? He was scratchin’ poor old Ethel’s paint to pieces. I never reported what he said to me. And he called me a damned amateur, too! Well! Well! War’s war. I missed all that fishing-party that time. My orders were to follow Uncle Newt. So I followed — and poor Ethel without a dry rag on her.’
‘There wasn’t any rest,’ Winchmore insisted pathetically. ‘There was just good old Ethel with her engines missing like sin, and Uncle Newt thumping and stinking half a mile ahead of us, and me eating bread and Worcester sauce. I do when I feel that way. Besides, I wanted to go back and join the fishing-party. Just before dark I made out Cordeilia — that Southampton ketch that old Jarrott fitted with oil auxiliaries for a family cruiser last summer. She’s a beamy bus, but she can roll, and she was doing an honest thirty degrees each way when I overhauled her. I asked Jarrott if he was busy. He said he wasn’t. But he was. He’s like me and Nelson when there’s any sea on.’
‘Jarrott’s a mine-sweeper,’ Winchmore replied with deep feeling. ‘The Quaker religion (I’m not a Quaker, but I’m much more religious than any of you chaps give me credit for) has decided that mine-sweeping is life-saving. Consequently’— he dwelt a little on the word —‘the profession is crowded with Quakers — specially off Scarborough. ‘See? Owin’ to the purity of their lives, they “all go to Heaven when they die — Roll, Jordan, Roll! “’
‘Yes, I did. It was the end of my beat — I wish I didn’t feel so sleepy — and I explained the whole situation to Jarrott, over the rail. ‘Gave him all my silly instructions — those latest ones, y’know. I told him to do nothing to imperil existing political relations. I told him to exercise tact. I— I told him that in my capac’ty as Actin’ Lootenant, you see. Jarrott’s only a Lootenant–Commander — at fifty-four, too! Yes, I handed my Uncle Newt over to Jarrott to chaperone, and I went back to my — I can say it perfectly — pis-ca-to-rial party in the bay. Now I’m going to have a nap. In ten minutes I shall be on deck again. This is my first civilised dinner in nine weeks, so I don’t apologise.’
‘Lyndnoch and Jarrott’s Bank, established 1793,’ said Maddingham half to himself. ‘I’ve seen old Jarrott in Cowes week bullied by his skipper and steward till he had to sneak ashore to sleep. And now he’s out mine-sweeping with Cordelia! What’s happened to his — I shall forget my own name next — Belfast-built two-hundred tonner?’
‘Me among others,’ Portson admitted. ‘I was going down Channel when I got my orders, and so I went on with him. Jarrott had been tremendously interested in his course up to date — specially off the Wash. He’d charted it very carefully and he said he was going back to find out what some of the kinks and curves meant. Has he found out, Tegg?’
‘No, no. Not that time. I signalled him to heave to. He had his papers ready before I came over the side. You see,’ Maddingham said pleadingly, ‘I’m new to this business. Perhaps I wasn’t as polite to him as I should have been if I’d had my breakfast.’
‘Ass!’ Maddingham growled and continued: ‘He told me that he’d been knocked out of his reckoning by foul weather and engine-trouble, owing to experimenting with a new type of Diesel engine. He was perfectly frank about it.’
‘I asked him what he’d got. He didn’t object. He had some fifty thousand gallon of oil for his new Diesel engine, and the rest was coal. He said he needed the oil to get to Antigua with, he was taking the coal as ballast, and he was coming back, so he told me, with coconuts. When he’d quite finished, I said: “What sort of damned idiot do you take me for?” He said: “I haven’t decided yet!” Then I said he’d better come into port with me, and we’d arrive at a decision. He said that his papers were in perfect order and that my instructions — mine, please!— were not to imperil political relations. I hadn’t received these asinine instructions, so I took the liberty of contradicting him — perfectly politely, as I told them at the Inquiry afterward. He was a small-boned man with a grey beard, in a glengarry, and he picked his teeth a lot. He said: “The last time I met you, Mister Maddingham, you were going to Carlsbad, and you told me all about your blood-pressures in the wagon-lit before we tossed for upper berth. Don’t you think you are a little old to buccaneer about the sea this way?” I couldn’t recall his face — he must have been some fellow that I’d travelled with some time or other. I told him I wasn’t doing this for amusement — it was business. Then I ordered him into port. He said: “S’pose I don’t go?” I said: “Then I’ll sink you.” Isn’t it extraordinary how natural it all seems after a few weeks? If any one had told me when I commissioned Hilarity last summer what I’d be doing this spring I’d — I’d...God! It is mad, isn’t it?’
‘Not at all, but that’s what makes it all the madder. Well, he didn’t argue any more. He warned me I’d be hauled over the coals for what I’d done, and I warned him to keep two cables ahead of me and not to yaw.’
‘You weren’t in the dock. They held a court-martial on me to find out how often I’d sworn at the poor injured Neutral, and whether I’d given him hot-water bottles and tucked him up at night. It’s all very fine to laugh, but they treated me like a pickpocket. There were two fat-headed civilian judges and that blackguard Tegg in the conspiracy. A cursed lawyer defended my Neutral and he made fun of me. He dragged in everything the Neutral had told him about my blood-pressures on the Carlsbad trip. And that’s what you get for trying to serve your country in your old age!’ Maddingham emptied and refilled his glass.
‘I could have stood it all if it hadn’t been for the Neutral. We dined at the same hotel while this court-martial was going on, and he used to come over to my table and sympathise with me! He told me that I was fighting for his ideals and the uplift of democracy, but I must respect the Law of Nations!’
‘I suppose I ought to have been on to the joke,’ he stammered, ‘but I’d blacked myself all over for the part of Lootenant–Commander R.N.V.R. in time of war, and I’d given up thinking as a banker. If it had been put before me as a business proposition I might have done better.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Tegg. ‘We were obliged to let that oily beggar go — for reasons, but, as I told Maddingham, the night the award was given, his duty was to see that he was properly directed to Antigua.’
Said Tegg, with downcast eyes: ‘Maddingham took my hand and squeezed it; he looked lovingly into my eyes (he did!); he turned plumcolour, and he said: “I will” just like a bride groom at the altar. It makes me feel shy to think of it even now. I didn’t see him after that till the evening when Hilarity was pulling out of the Basin, and Maddingham was cursing the tug-master.’
‘I was in a hurry,’ said Maddingham. ‘I wanted to get to the Narrows and wait for my Neutral there. I dropped down to Biller and Grove’s yard that tide (they’ve done all my work for years) and I jammed Hilarity into the creek behind their slip, so the Newt didn’t spot me when he came down the river. Then I pulled out and followed him over the Bar. He stood nor-west at once. I let him go till we were well out of sight of land. Then I overhauled him, gave him a gun across the bows and ran alongside. I’d just had my lunch, and I wasn’t going to lose my temper this time. I said: “Excuse me, but I understand you are bound for Antigua?” He was, he said, and as he seemed a little nervous about my falling aboard him in that swell, I gave Hilarity another sheer inshe’s as handy as a launch — and I said: “May I suggest that this is not the course for Antigua?” By that time he had his fenders overside, and all hands yelling at me to keep away. I snatched Hilarity out and began edging in again. He said: “I’m trying a sample of inferior oil that I have my doubts about. If it works all right I shall lay my course for Antigua, but it will take some time to test the stuff and adjust the engines to it.” I said: “Very good, let me know if I can be of any service,” and I offered him Hilarity again once or twice — he didn’t want her — and then I dropped behind and let him go on. Wasn’t that proper, Portson?’
‘It’s only a little trick of steering,’ Maddingham replied with a simper of vanity. ‘You can almost shave with her when she feels like it. I had to do it again that same evening, to establish a moral ascendancy. He wasn’t showing any lights, and I nearly tripped over him. He was a scared Neutral for three minutes, but I got a little of my own back for that damned court-martial. But I was perfectly polite. I apologised profusely. I didn’t even ask him to show his lights.’
‘He did — every one; and a flare now and then,’ Maddingham replied. ‘He held north all that night, with a falling barometer and a rising wind and all the other filthy things. Gad, how I hated him! Next morning we got it, good and tight from the nor-nor-west out of the Atlantic, off Carso Head. He dodged into a squall, and then he went about. We weren’t a mile behind, but it was as thick as a wall. When it cleared, and I couldn’t see him ahead of me, I went about too, and followed the rain. I picked him up five miles down wind, legging it for all he was worth to the south’ard — nine knots, I should think. Hilarity doesn’t like a following sea. We got pooped a bit, too, but by noon we’d struggled back to where we ought to have been — two cables astern of him. Then he began to signal, but his flags being end-on to us, of course, we had to creep up on his beam — well abeam — to read ’em. That didn’t restore his morale either. He made out he’d been compelled to put back by stress of weather before completing his oil tests. I made back I was sorry to hear it, but would be greatly interested in the results. Then I turned in (I’d been up all night) and my lootenant took on. He was a widower (by the way) of the name of Sherrin, aged forty-seven. He’d run a girls’ school at Weston-super-Mare after he’d left the Service in ‘ninety-five, and he believed the English were the Lost Tribes.’
‘Oh, they’d been misled by Austria, who was the Beast with Horns in Revelations. Otherwise he was rather a dull dog. He set the tops’ls in his watch. Hilarity won’t steer under any canvas, so we rather sported round our friend that afternoon, I believe. When I came up after dinner, she was biting his behind, first one side, then the other. Let’s see — that would be about thirty miles east-sou-east of Harry Island. We were running as near as nothing south. The wind had dropped, and there was a useful cross-rip coming up from the south-east. I took the wheel and, the way I nursed him from starboard, he had to take the sea over his port bow. I had my sciatica on me — buccaneering’s no game for a middleaged man — but I gave that fellow sprudel! By Jove; I washed him out! He stood it as long as he could, and then he made a bolt for Harry Island. I had to ride in his pocket most of the way there because I didn’t know that coast. We had charts, but Sherrin never understood ’em, and I couldn’t leave the wheel. So we rubbed along together, and about midnight this Newt dodged in over the tail of Harry Shoals and anchored, if you please, in the lee of the Double Ricks. It was dead calm there, except for the swell, but there wasn’t much room to manoeuvre in, and I wasn’t going to anchor. It looked too like a submarine rendezvous. But first, I came alongside and asked him what his trouble was. He told me he had overheated his something-or-other bulb. I’ve never been shipmates with Diesel engines, but I took his word for it, and I said I ‘ud stand by till it cooled. Then he told me to go to hell.’
‘That’s what I thought. I was on the bridge, rabid with sciatica, going round and round like a circus-horse in about three acres of water, and wondering when I’d hit something. Ridiculous position. Sherrin saw it. He saved me. He said it was an ideal place for submarine attacks, and we’d better begin to repel ’em at once. As I said, I couldn’t leave the wheel, so Sherrin fought the ship — both quick-firers and the maxims. He tipped ’em well down into the sea or well up at the Ricks as we went round and round. We made rather a row; and the row the gulls made when we woke ’em was absolutely terrifying. ‘Give you my word!’
‘I kept on running in circles through this ghastly din. I took one sheer over toward his stern — I thought I’d cut it too fine, but we missed it by inches. Then I heard his capstan busy, and in another three minutes his anchor was up. He didn’t wait to stow. He hustled out as he was — bulb or no bulb. He passed within ten feet of us (I was waiting to fall in behind him) and he shouted over the rail: “You think you’ve got patriotism. All you’ve got is uric acid and rotten spite!” I expect he was a little bored. I waited till we had cleared Harry Shoals before I went below, and then I slept till 9 a.m. He was heading north this time, and after I’d had breakfast and a smoke I ran alongside and asked him where he was bound for now. He was wrapped in a comforter, evidently suffering from a bad cold. I couldn’t quite catch what he said, but I let him croak for a few minutes and fell back. At 9 a.m. he turned round and headed south (I was getting to know the Irish Channel by then) and I followed. There was no particular sea on. It was a little chilly, but as he didn’t hug the coast I hadn’t to take the wheel. I stayed below most of the night and let Sherrin suffer. Well, Mr. Newt kept up this game all the next day, dodging up and down the Irish Channel. And it was infernally dull. He threw up the sponge off Cloone Harbour. That was on Friday morning. He signalled: “Developed defects in engine-room. Antigua trip abandoned.” Then he ran into Cloone and tied up at Brady’s Wharf. You know you can’t repair a dinghy at Cloone! I followed, of course, and berthed behind him. After lunch I thought I’d pay him a call. I wanted to look at his engines. I don’t understand Diesels, but Hyslop, my engineer, said they must have gone round ’em with a hammer, for they were pretty badly smashed up. Besides that, they had offered all their oil to the Admiralty agent there, and it was being shifted to a tug when I went aboard him. So I’d done my job. I was just going back to Hilarity when his steward said he’d like to see me. He was lying in his cabin breathing pretty loud — wrapped up in rugs and his eyes sticking out like a rabbit’s. He offered me drinks. I couldn’t accept ’em, of course. Then he said: “Well, Mr. Maddingham, I’m all in.” I said I was glad to hear it. Then he told me he was seriously ill with a sudden attack of bronchial pneumonia, and he asked me to run him across to England to see his doctor in town. I said, of course, that was out of the question, Hilarity being a man-of-war in commission. He couldn’t see it. He asked what had that to do with it? He thought this war was some sort of joke, and I had to repeat it all over again. He seemed rather afraid of dying (it’s no game for a middle-aged man, of course) and he hoisted himself up on one elbow and began calling me a murderer. I explained to him — perfectly politely — that I wasn’t in this job for fun. It was business. My orders were to see that he went to Antigua, and now that he wasn’t going to Antigua, and had sold his oil to us, that finished it as far as I was concerned. (Wasn’t that perfectly correct?) He said: “But that finishes me, too. I can’t get any doctor in this Godforsaken hole. I made sure you’d treat me properly as soon as I surrendered.” I said there wasn’t any question of surrender. If he’d been a wounded belligerent, I might have taken him aboard, though I certainly shouldn’t have gone a yard out of my course to land him anywhere; but as it was, he was a neutral — altogether outside the game. You see my point? I tried awfully hard to make him understand it. He went on about his affairs all being at loose ends. He was a rich man — a million and a quarter, he said — and he wanted to redraft his will before he died. I told him a good many people were in his position just now — only they weren’t rich. He changed his tack then and appealed to me on the grounds of our common humanity. “Why, if you leave me now, Mr. Maddingham,” he said, “you condemn me to death, just as surely as if you hanged me.”’
‘I was surprised at myself —‘give you my word. But I was perfectly polite. I said to him: “Try to be reasonable, sir. If you had got rid of your oil where it was wanted, you’d have condemned lots of people to death just as surely as if you’d drowned ’em.” “Ah, but I didn’t,” he said. “That ought to count in my favour.” “That was no thanks to you,” I said. “You weren’t given the chance. This is war, sir. If you make up your mind to that, you’ll see that the rest follows.” “I didn’t imagine you’d take it as seriously as all that,” he said — and he said it quite seriously, too. “Show a little consideration. Your side’s bound to win anyway.” I said: “Look here! I’m a middle-aged man, and I don’t suppose my conscience is any clearer than yours in many respects, but this is business. I can do nothing for you.”’
‘He saw what I was driving at,’ Maddingham replied, ‘and he was the only one that mattered for the moment. “Then I’m a dead man, Mr. Maddingham,” he said. “That’s your business,” I said. “Good afternoon.” And I went out.’
‘Because I wasn’t acting in my private capacity. I’d been on the bridge for three nights and —’ Maddingham pulled out his watch —‘this time tomorrow I shall be there again — confound it! Has my car come, Henri?’
I WAS buying a canary in a birdshop when he first spoke to me and suggested that I should take a less highly coloured bird. ‘The colour is in the feeding,’ said he. ‘Unless you know how to feed ’em, it goes. Canaries are one of our hobbies.’
He passed out before I could thank him. He was a middle-aged man with grey hair and a short, dark beard, rather like a Sealyham terrier in silver spectacles. For some reason his face and his voice stayed in my mind so distinctly that, months later, when I jostled against him on a platform crowded with an Angling Club going to the Thames, I recognised, turned, and nodded.
‘Well! Well! To think,’ said he, ‘of one man in all these millions turning up in this curious way, when there’s so many who don’t turn up at all — eh?’ (It was then that he told me of Son Lewis’s death and why the boy had been christened Lewis.) ‘Yes. There’s not much left for middle-aged people just at present. Even one’s hobbies —— We used to fish together. And the same with canaries! We used to breed ’em for colour — deep orange was our speciality. That’s why I spoke to you, if you remember; but I’ve sold all my birds. Well! Well! And now we must locate your trouble.’
‘Many of my clients are soldiers nowadays, and a number of ’em belong to the Craft,’ said Mr. Burges. ‘It breaks my heart to give them the tobaccos they ask for. On the other hand, not one man in five thousand has a tobacco-palate. Preference, yes. Palate, no. Here’s your pipe, again. It deserves better treatment than it’s had. There’s a procedure, a ritual, in all things. Any time you’re passing by again, I assure you, you will be welcome. I’ve one or two odds and ends that may interest you.’
I left the shop with the rarest of all feelings on me — the sensation which is only youth’s right — that I might have made a friend. A little distance from the door I was accosted by a wounded man who asked for ‘Burges’s.’ The place seemed to be known in the neighbourhood.
I found my way to it again, and often after that, but it was not till my third visit that I discovered Mr. Burges held a half interest in Ackerman and Pernit’s, the great cigar-importers, which had come to him through an uncle whose children now lived almost in the Cromwell Road, and said that the uncle had been on the Stock Exchange.
It had been established by his grandfather in 1827, but the fittings and appointments must have been at least half a century older. The brown and red tobacco — and snuff-jars, with Crowns, Garters, and names of forgotten mixtures in gold leaf; the polished ‘Oronoque’ tobacco-barrels on which favoured customers sat; the cherry-black mahogany counter, the delicately moulded shelves, the reeded cigar-cabinets, the German-silver-mounted scales, and the Dutch brass roll — and cake-cutter, were things to covet.
‘They aren’t so bad,’ he admitted. ‘That large Bristol jar hasn’t any duplicate to my knowledge. Those eight snuff-jars on the third shelf — they’re Dollin’s ware; he used to work for Wimble in Seventeen–Forty — are absolutely unique. Is there any one in the trade now could tell you what “Romano’s Hollande” was? Or “Scholten’s”? Here’s a snuff-mull of George the First’s time; and here’s a Louis Quinze — what am I talking of? Treize, Treize, of course — grater for making bran-snuff. They were regular tools of the shop in my grandfather’s day. And who on earth to leave ’em to outside the British Museum now, I can’t think!’
His pipes — I would this were a tale for virtuosi — his amazing collection of pipes was kept in the parlour, and this gave me the privilege of making his wife’s acquaintance. One morning, as I was looking covetously at a jacaranda-wood ‘cigarro’-not cigar-cabinet with silver lock-plates and drawer-knobs of Spanish work, a wounded Canadian came into the shop and disturbed our happy little committee.
‘A man from Messines. But that ain’t the point! I’ve got no certificates, nor papers nothin’, you understand. I left my Lodge owin’ ’em seventeen dollars back-dues. But this man at Messines told me it wouldn’t make any odds with you.’
‘I don’t know any more than you do — except he must be a Brother. London’s full of Masons now. Well! Well! We must do what we can these days. If you’ll come to tea this evening, I’ll take you on to Lodge afterwards. It’s a Lodge of Instruction.’
‘“Faith and Works 5837”— the third Saturday of every month. Our Lodge of Instruction meets nominally every Thursday, but we sit oftener than that now because there are so many Visiting Brothers in town. ‘Here another customer entered, and I went away much interested in the range of Brother Burgess hobbies.
‘Yes, we owe that much to the Craft,’ he assented. ‘All Ritual is fortifying. Ritual’s a natural necessity for mankind. The more things are upset, the more they fly to it. I abhor slovenly Ritual anywhere. By the way, would you mind assisting at the examinations, if there are many Visiting Brothers to-night? You’ll find some of ’em very rusty, but — it’s the Spirit, not the Letter, that giveth life. The question of Visiting Brethren is an important one. There are so many of them in London now, you see; and so few places where they can meet.’
‘You mustn’t expect —’ he was still saying when we stumbled up a porch and entered a carefully decorated ante-room hung round with Masonic prints. I noticed Peter Gilkes and Barton Wilson, fathers of ‘Emulation’ working, in the place of honour; Kneller’s Christopher Wren; Dunkerley, with his own Fitz-George book-plate below and the bend sinister on the Royal Arms; Hogarth’s caricature of Wilkes, also his disreputable ‘Night’; and a beautifully framed set of Grand Masters, from Anthony Sayer down.
‘Not this time,’ Mr. Burges smiled. ‘We have to thank Brother Lemming for them.’ He introduced me to the senior partner of Lemming and Orton, whose little shop is hard to find, but whose words and cheques in the matter of prints are widely circulated.
I had never seen a Lodge Room better fitted. From mosaicked floor to appropriate ceiling, from curtain to pillar, implements to seats, seats to lights, and little carved music-loft at one end, every detail was perfect in particular kind and general design. I said what I thought of them all, many times over.
‘I told you I was a Ritualist,’ said Mr. Burges. ‘Look at those carved corn-sheaves and grapes on the back of these Wardens’ chairs. That’s the old tradition — before Masonic furnishers spoilt it. I picked up that pair in Stepney ten years ago — the same time I got the gavel.’ It was of ancient, yellowed ivory, cut all in one piece out of some tremendous tusk. ‘That came from the Gold Coast,’ he said. ‘It belonged to a Military Lodge there in 1794. You can see the inscription.’
‘It stood us,’ said Brother Lemming, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, ‘an appreciable sum of money when we built it in 1906, even with what Brother Anstruther — he was our contractor — cheated himself out of. By the way, that ashlar there is pure Carrara, he tells me. I don’t understand marbles myself. Since then I expect we’ve put inoh, quite another little sum. Now we’ll go to the examination-room and take on the Brethren.’
He led me back, not to the ante-room, but a convenient chamber flanked with what looked like confessional-boxes (I found out later that that was what they had been, when first picked up for a song near Oswestry). A few men in uniform were waiting at the far end. ‘That’s only the head of the procession. The rest are in the ante-room,’ said an officer of the Lodge.
‘Shapes’ was not a bad description, for my first penitent was all head-bandages — escaped from an Officers’ Hospital, Pentonville way. He asked me in profane Scots how I expected a man with only six teeth and half a lower lip to speak to any purpose, so we compromised on the signs. The next — a New Zealander from Taranaki — reversed the process, for he was one-armed, and that in a sling. I mistrusted an enormous Sergeant–Major of Heavy Artillery, who struck me as much too glib, so I sent him on to Brother Lemming in the next box, who discovered he was a Past District Grand Officer. My last man nearly broke me down altogether. Everything seemed to have gone from him.
‘I don’t blame yer,’ he gulped at last. ‘I wouldn’t pass my own self on my answers, but I give yer my word that so far as I’ve had any religion, it’s been all the religion I’ve had. For God’s sake, let me sit in Lodge again, Brother!’
When the examinations were ended, a Lodge Officer came round with our aprons — no tinsel or silver-gilt confections, but heavily-corded silk with tassels and — where a man could prove he was entitled to them — levels, of decent plate. Some one in front of me tightened a belt on a stiffly silent person in civil clothes with dischargebadge. ‘‘Strewth! This is comfort again,’ I heard him say. The companion nodded. The man went on suddenly: ‘Here! What’re you doing? Leave off! You promised not to Chuck it!’ and dabbed at his companion’s streaming eyes.
It appeared that the silent Brother was a ‘shell-shocker’ whom Brother Lemming had passed, on the guarantee of his friend and — what moved Lemming more — the threat that, were he refused, he would have fits from pure disappointment. So the ‘shocker’ went happily and silently among Brethren evidently accustomed to these displays.
We fell in, two by two, according to tradition, fifty of us at least, and were played into Lodge by what I thought was an harmonium, but which I discovered to be an organ of repute. It took time to settle us down, for ten or twelve were cripples and had to be helped into long or easy chairs. I sat between a one-footed R.A.M.C. Corporal and a Captain of Territorials, who, he told me, had ‘had a brawl’ with a bomb, which had bent him in two directions. ‘But that’s first-class Bach the organist is giving us now,’ he said delightedly. ‘I’d like to know him. I used to be a piano-thumper of sorts.’
‘I’ll introduce you after Lodge,’ said one of the regular Brethren behind us — a plump, torpedo-bearded man, who turned out to be a doctor. ‘After all, there’s nobody to touch Bach, is there?’ Those two plunged at once into musical talk, which to outsiders is as fascinating as trigonometry.
Now a Lodge of Instruction is mainly a parade-ground for Ritual. It cannot initiate or confer degrees, but is limited to rehearsals and lectures. Worshipful Brother Burges, resplendent in Solomon’s Chair (I found out later where that, too, had been picked up), briefly told the Visiting Brethren how welcome they were and always would be, and asked them to vote what ceremony should be rendered for their instruction.
When the decision was announced he wanted to know whether any Visiting Brothers would take the duties of Lodge Officers. They protested bashfully that they were too rusty. ‘The very reason why,’ said Brother Surges, while the organ Bached softly. My musical Captain wriggled in his chair.
The Past District Grand Officer, who was also a Battery-Sergeant-Major, waddled across, lifted the slight weight in his arms and bore it to the loft, where, the regular organist pumping, it played joyously as a soul caught up to Heaven by surprise.
When the visitors had been coaxed to supply the necessary officers, a ceremony was rehearsed. Brother Burges forbade the regular members to prompt. The visitors had to work entirely by themselves, but, on the Battery-Sergeant-Major taking a hand, he was ruled out as of too exalted rank. They floundered badly after that support was withdrawn.
‘Do I? It’s Heaven to me, sittin’ in Lodge again. It’s all comin’ back now, watching their mistakes. I haven’t much religion, but all I had I learnt in Lodge.’ Recognising me, he flushed a little as one does when one says a thing twice over in another’s hearing. ‘Yes, “veiled in all’gory and illustrated in symbols”— the Fatherhood of God, an’ the Brotherhood of Man; an’ what more in Hell do you want?...Look at ’em!’ He broke off giggling. ‘See! See! They’ve tied the whole thing into knots. I could ha’ done it better myself — my one foot in France. Yes, I should think they ought to do it again!’
When the amateurs, rather red and hot, had finished, they demanded an exhibition-working of their bungled ceremony by Regular Brethren of the Lodge. Then I realised for the first time what word-and-gesture-perfect Ritual can be brought to mean. We all applauded, the one — footed Corporal most of all.
‘That’s all right!’ the one-footed man spoke cautiously out of the side of his mouth like a boy in form. ‘But they’re the kind o’ copybook-headin’s we shall find burnin’ round our bunks in Hell. Believe me-ee! I’ve broke enough of ’em to know. Now, hsh!’ He leaned forward, drinking it all in.
Presently Brother Burges touched on a point which had given rise to some diversity of Ritual. He asked for information. ‘Well, in Jamaica, Worshipful Sir,’ a Visiting Brother began, and explained how they worked that detail in his parts. Another and another joined in from different quarters of the Lodge (and the world), and when they were well warmed the Doctor sidled softly round the walls and, over our shoulders, passed us cigarettes.
‘An’ I’ve learned more in one evenin’ here than ten years.’ The one-footed man turned round for an instant from a dark, sour-looking Yeoman in spurs who was laying down the law on Dutch Ritual. The blue haze and the talk increased, while the organ from the loft blessed us all.
‘Brother Burges started it. He used to talk to the men who dropped into his shop when the war began. He told us sleepy old chaps in Lodge that what men wanted more than anything else was Lodges where they could sit — just sit and be happy like we are now. He was right too. We’re learning things in the war. A man’s Lodge means more to him than people imagine. As our friend on your right said just now, very often Masonry’s the only practical creed we’ve ever listened to since we were children. Platitudes or no platitudes, it squares with what everybody knows ought to be done.’ He sighed. ‘And if this war hasn’t brought home the Brotherhood of Man to us all, I’m — a Hun!’
‘Oh, I told a few fellows in hospital near here, at Burgess suggestion, that we had a Lodge of Instruction and they’d be welcome. And they came. And they told their friends. And they came! That was two years ago — and now we’ve Lodge of Instruction two nights a week, and a matinee nearly every Tuesday and Friday for the men who can’t get evening leave. Yes, it’s all very curious. I’d no notion what the Craft meant — and means — till this war.’
‘Yet it’s quite natural if you think. Here’s London — all England — packed with the Craft from all over the world, and nowhere for them to go. Why, our weekly visiting attendance for the last four months averaged just under a hundred and forty. Divide by four — call it thirty-five Visiting Brethren a time. Our record’s seventy-one, but we have packed in as many as eighty-four at Banquets. You can see for yourself what a potty little hole we are!’
‘My dear man — what does it come to? They can’t all stay to Banquet. Say one hundred suppers a week — fifteen quid — sixty a month — seven hundred and twenty a year. How much are Lemming and Orton worth? And Ellis and McKnight — that long big man over yonder — the provision dealers? How much d’you suppose could Burges write a cheque for and not feel?‘Tisn’t as if he had to save for any one now. I assure you we have no scruple in calling on the Visiting Brethren when we want anything. We couldn’t do the work otherwise. Have you noticed how the Lodge is kept — brass-work, jewels, furniture, and so on?’
‘Well, come here on a bye-day and you’ll often find half-a-dozen Brethren, with eight legs between ’em, polishing and ronuking and sweeping everything they can get at. I cured a shell-shocker this spring by giving him our jewels to look after. He pretty well polished the numbers off ’em, but — it kept him from fighting Huns in his sleep. And when we need Masters to take our duties — two matinees a week is rather a tax — we’ve the choice of P.M.‘s from all over the world. The Dominions are much keener on Ritual than an average English Lodge. Besides that —— Oh, we’re going to adjourn. Listen to the greetings. They’ll be interesting.’
The crack of the great gavel brought us to our feet, after some surging and plunging among the cripples. Then the Battery-Sergeant-Major, in a trained voice, delivered hearty and fraternal greetings to ‘Faith and Works’ from his tropical District and Lodge. The others followed, with out order, in every tone between a grunt and a squeak. I heard ‘Hauraki,’ ‘Inyanga–Umbezi,’ ‘Aloha,’ ‘Southern Lights’ (from somewhere Punta Arenas way), ‘Lodge of Rough Ashlars’ (and that Newfoundland Naval Brother looked it), two or three Stars of something or other, half-a-dozen cardinal virtues, variously arranged, hailing from Klondyke to Kalgoorlie, one Military Lodge on one of the fronts, thrown in with a severe Scots burr by my friend of the head-bandages, and the rest as mixed as the Empire itself. Just at the end there was a little stir. The silent Brother had begun to make noises; his companion tried to soothe him.
‘Let him be! Let him be!’ the Doctor called professionally. The man jerked and mouthed, and at last mumbled something unintelligible even to his friend, but a small dark P.M. pushed forward importantly.
‘It iss all right,’ he said. ‘He wants to say —’ he spat out some yard-long Welsh name, adding, ‘That means Pembroke Docks, Worshipful Sir. We haf good Masons in Wales, too.’ The silent man nodded approval.
‘Yes,’ said the Doctor, quite unmoved. ‘It happens that way sometimes. Hespere panta fereis, isn’t it? The Star brings ’em all home. I must get a note of that fellow’s case after Lodge. I saw you didn’t care for music,’ he went on, ‘but I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with a little more. It’s a paraphrase from Micah. Our organist arranged it. We sing it antiphonally, as a sort of dismissal.’
‘We have showed thee, O Man.
What is good.
What doth the Lord require of us?
Or Conscience’ self desire of us?
But to do justly —
But to love mercy.
And to walk humbly with our God.
As every Mason should.’
The Brother (a big-boned clergyman) that I found myself next to at table told me the custom was ‘a fond thing vainly invented’ on the strength of some old legend. He laid down that Masonry should be regarded as an ‘intellectual abstraction.’ An Officer of Engineers disagreed with him, and told us how in Flanders, a year before, some ten or twelve Brethren held Lodge in what was left of a Church. Save for the Emblems of Mortality and plenty of rough ashlars, there was no furniture.
‘But it wasn’t,’ said the other. ‘We took a lot of trouble to make our regalia out of camouflage-stuff that we’d pinched, and we manufactured our jewels from old metal. I’ve got the set now. It kept us happy for weeks.’
The ‘Banquet’ was simplicity itself. Many of us ate in haste so as to get back to barracks or hospitals, but now and again a Brother came in from the outer darkness to fill a chair and empty a plate. These were Brethren who had been there before and needed no examination.
He stoked himself for ten minutes without a word. Then, without a word, his face fell forward. The Clergyman had him by one already limp arm and steered him to a couch, where ho dropped and snored. No one took the trouble to turn round.
‘Why not?’ said the Clergyman. ‘I’m on duty to-night to wake them for their trains. They do not respect the Cloth on those occasions.’ He turned his broad back on me and continued his discussion with a Brother from Aberdeen by way of Mitylene where, in the intervals of mine-sweeping, he had evolved a complete theory of the Revelation of St. John the Divine in the Island of Patmos.
I fell into the hands of a Sergeant–Instructor of Machine Guns — by profession a designer of ladies’ dresses. He told me that Englishwomen as a class ‘lose on their corsets what they make on their clothes,’ and that ‘Satan himself can’t save a woman who wears thirty-shilling corsets under a thirty-guinea costume.’ Here, to my grief, he was buttonholed by a zealous Lieutenant of his own branch, and became a Sergeant again all in one click.
I drifted back and forth, studying the prints on the walls and the Masonic collection in the cases, while I listened to the inconceivable talk all round me. Little by little the company thinned, till at last there were only a dozen or so of us left. We gathered at the end of a table near the fire, the night-bird from Flanders trumpeting lustily into the hollow of his helmet, which some one had tipped over his face.
‘That’s what it is really.’ Brother Burges returned the gold pince-nez to their case and reshipped his silver spectacles. ‘Or that’s what it might be made with a little trouble. When I think of the possibilities of the Craft at this juncture I wonder —’ He stared into the fire.
The Clergyman was bristling. ‘Kamerad!’ the wise Sergeant–Major went on, both hands up. ‘Certainly not as a substitute for a creed, but as an average plan of life. What I’ve seen at the front makes me sure of it.’
Brother Burges came out of his muse. ‘There ought to be a dozen — twenty — other Lodges in London every night; conferring degrees too, as well as instruction. Why shouldn’t the young men join? They practise what we’re always preaching. Well! Well! We must all do what we can. What’s the use of old Masons if they can’t give a little help along their own lines?’
‘Have it your own way then,’ said the Doctor testily. He had evidently been approached before. He took something the Sergeant–Major handed to him and pocketed it with a nod. ‘I was wrong,’ he said to me, ‘when I boasted of our independence. They get round us sometimes. This,’ he slapped his pocket, ‘will give a banquet on Tuesday. We don’t usually feed at matinees. It will be a surprise. By the way, try another sandwich. The ham are best.’ He pushed me a plate.
‘Of course,’ said the Doctor with his mouth full. ‘A little fatter than this chap, please. And don’t forget your promise about the pickled nasturtiums. They’re appreciated.’ Brother Lemming nodded above the pipe he had lit as we began a second supper. Suddenly the Clergyman, after a glance at the clock, scooped up half-a-dozen sandwiches from under my nose, put them into an oiled paper bag, and advanced cautiously towards the sleeper on the couch.
‘They wake rough sometimes,’ said the Doctor. ‘Nerves, y’know.’ The Clergyman tip-toed directly behind the man’s head, and at arm’s length rapped on the dome of the helmet. The man woke in one vivid streak, as the Clergyman stepped back, and grabbed for a rifle that was not there.
‘There ought to be scores of them,’ Brother Burges repeated as we went out of the door. ‘All London’s full of the Craft, and no places for them to meet in. Think of the possibilities of it! Think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world. I hope I’m not censorious, but it sometimes crosses my mind that Grand Lodge may have thrown away its chance in the war almost as much as the Church has.’
‘Lucky for you the Padre is taking that chap to King’s Cross,’ said Brother Lemming, ‘or he’d be down your throat. What really troubles him is our legal position under Masonic Law. I think he’ll inform on us one of these days. Well, good night, all.’ The Doctor and Lemming turned off together.
HOW comes it that, at even-tide.
When level beams should show most truth.
Man, failing, takes unfailing pride
In memories of his frolic youth?
Venus and Liber fill their hour;
The games engage, the law-courts prove;
Till hardened life breeds love of power
Or Avarice, Age’s final love.
Yet at the end, these comfort not —
Nor any triumph Fate decrees —
Compared with glorious, unforgot —
ten innocent enormities
Of frontless days before the beard.
When, instant on the casual jest.
The God Himself of Mirth appeared
And snatched us to His heaving breast.
And we — not caring who He was
But certain He would come again —
Accepted all He brought to pass
As Gods accept the lives of men...
Then He withdrew from sight and speech.
Nor left a shrine. How comes it now.
While Charon’s keel grates on the beach.
He calls so clear: ‘Rememberest thou?’?
HIS name was Brownell and his reign was brief. He came from the Central Anglican Scholastic Agency, a soured, clever, reddish man picked up by the Head at the very last moment of the summer holidays in default of Macrea (of Macrea’s House) who wired from Switzerland that he had smashed a knee mountaineering, and would not be available that term.
Looking back at the affair, one sees that the Head should have warned Mr. Brownell of the College’s outstanding peculiarity, instead of leaving him to discover it for himself the first day of the term, when he went for a walk to the beach, and saw ‘Potiphar’ Mullins, Head of Games, smoking without conceal on the sands. ‘Pot,’ having the whole of the Autumn Football challenges, acceptances, and Fifteen reconstructions to work out, did not at first comprehend Mr. Brownell’s shrill cry of: ‘You’re smoking! You’re smoking, sir!’ but he removed his pipe, and answered, placably enough: ‘The Army Class is allowed to smoke, sir.’
Mr. Brownell and his umbrella scudded off, and Pot returned to his match-plannings. Anon, he observed, much as the Almighty might observe black-beetles, two small figures coming over the Pebble-ridge a few hundred yards to his right. They were a Major and his Minor, the latter a new boy and, as such, entitled to his brother’s countenance for exactly three days — after which he would fend for himself. Pot waited till they were well out on the great stretch of mother-o’pearl sands; then caused his ground-ash to describe a magnificent whirl of command in the air.
‘Yes,’ the Reverend John cut in. ‘The Army Class is allowed to smoke — not in their studies, of course, but within limits, out of doors. You see, we have to compete against the Crammers’ establishments, where smoking’s usual.’
‘There may be something in what you say,’ the Reverend John assented. ‘But as a matter of fact, their actual smoking doesn’t amount to much. They talk a great deal about their brands of tobacco. Practically, it makes them rather keen on putting down smoking among the juniors — as an encroachment on their privilege, you see. They lick ’em twice as hard for it as we’d dare to.’
‘Ah!’ said the Reverend John to himself. ‘You’ll leave at the end of the term; but you’ll have a deuce of a time first.’ Aloud: ‘We-ell, I suppose no one can be sure of any school’s tendency at any given moment, but, personally, I should incline to believe that we’re reasonably free from the — er — monastic microbes of — er — older institutions.’
‘At last!’ cried the Reverend John. (Packman was Pot’s second-incommand, who considered himself a heaven-born half-back, but Pot had been working on him diplomatically. ‘He’ll be a pillar, at any rate. Lend me one of your fuzees, please. I’ve only got matches.’
As the Studies brought back brackets and pictures for their walls, so did they bring odds and ends of speech — theatre, opera, and music-hall gags — from the great holiday world; some of which stuck for a term, and others were discarded. Number Five was unpacking, when Dick Four (King’s House) of the red nose and dramatic instincts, who with Pussy and Tertius inhabited the study below, loafed up and asked them ‘how their symptoms seemed to segashuate.’ They said nothing at the time, for they knew Dick had a giddy uncle who took him to the Pavilion and the Cri, and all would be explained later. But, before they met again, Beetle came across two fags at war in a box-room, one of whom cried to the other ‘Turn me loose, or I’ll knock the natal stuffin’ out of you.’ Beetle demanded why he, being offal, presumed to use this strange speech. The fag said it came out of a new book about rabbits and foxes and turtles and niggers, which was in his locker. (Uncle Remus was a popular holiday gift-book in Shotover’s year: when Cetewayo lived in the Melbury Road, Arabi Pasha in Egypt, and Spofforth on the Oval.) Beetle had it out and read for some time, standing by the window, ere he carried it off to Number Five and began at once to give a wonderful story of a Tar Baby. Stalky tore it from him because he sputtered incoherently; McTurk, for the same cause, wrenching it from Stalky. There was no prep that night. The book was amazing, and full of quotations that one could hurl like javelins. When they came down to prayers, Stalky, to show he was abreast of the latest movement, pounded on the door of Dick Four’s study shouting a couplet that pleased him:
The chants seemed to answer the ends of their being created for the moment. They all sang them the whole way up the corridor, and, after prayers, bore the burdens dispersedly to their several dormitories, where they found many who knew the book of the words, but who, boylike, had waited for a lead ere giving tongue. In a short time the College was as severely infected with Uncle Remus as it had been with Pinafore and Patience. King realised it specially because he was running Macrea’s House in addition to his own and, Dick Four said, was telling his new charges what he thought of his ‘esteemed colleague’s’ methods of House-control.
‘We-ell. I should say that that was the one tendency we had not developed. Setting aside we haven’t even a curtain in a dormitory, let alone a lock to any form-room door — there has to be tradition in these things.’
‘Oh! My early Christianity sermons? I bought a dozen ready made in Town just before I came down. Some one who knows his Gibbon must have done ’em. Aren’t they good?’ The Reverend John, who was no hand at written work, beamed self-approvingly. There was a knock and Pot entered.
The weather had defeated him, at last. All footer-grounds, he reported, were unplayable, and must be rested. His idea, to keep things going, was Big and Little Side Paper-chases thrice a week. For the juniors, a shortish course on the Burrows, which he intended to oversee personally the first few times, while Packman lunged Big Side across the inland and upland ploughs, for proper sweats. There was some question of bounds that he asked authority to vary; and, would the Head please say which afternoons would interfere least with the Army Class, Extra Tuition.
As to bounds, the Head left those, as usual, entirely to Pot. The Reverend John volunteered to shift one of his extra-Tu classes from four to five p.m. till after prayers — nine to ten. The whole question was settled in five minutes.
‘To go back —’ drawled the Head when the door was well shut. ‘No-o. I do not think so!...Ye-es! He’ll leave at the end of the term... A-aah! How does it go? “Don’t ‘spute wid de squinch-owl. Jam de shovel in de fier.” Have you come across that extraordinary book, by the way?’
Here Mr. King came in with a neat little scheme for the reorganisation of certain details in Macrea’s House, where he had detected reprehensible laxities. The Head sighed. The Reverend John only heard the beginnings of it. Then he slid out softly. He remembered he had not written to Macrea for quite a long time.
The first Big Side Paper-chase, in blinding wet, was as vile as even the groaning and bemired Beetle had prophesied. But Dick Four had managed to run his own line when it skirted Bideford, and turned up at the Lavatories half an hour late cherishing a movable tumour beneath his sweater.
‘I don’t know yet; but I had to get him. ‘Man with a barrow full of ’em in Bridge Street. ‘Gave me my choice for a bob. Leave him alone, you owl! He won’t swim where you’ve been washing your filthy self! “I’m right at home, my joy, my joy.”’ Dick’s nose shone like Bardolph’s as he bubbled in the bath.
Brer Terrapin, painted or and sable — King’s House-colours — swung by a neatly contrived belly-band from the end of a broken jumping-pole. They thought rather well of taking him in to tea. They called at one or two studies on the way, and were warmly welcomed; but when they reached the still shut doors of the dining-hall (Richards, ex-Petty Officer, R.N., was always unpunctual — but they needn’t have called him ‘Stinking Jim ‘) the whole school shouted approval. After the meal, Brer Terrapin was borne the round of the form-rooms from Number One to Number Twelve, in an unbroken roar of homage.
It had been a satisfactory performance. Little Hartopp, surprised labelling ‘rocks’ in Number Twelve, which held the Natural History Museum, had laughed consumedly; and the Reverend John, just before prep, complimented Dick that he had not a single dissenter to his following. In this respect the affair was an advance on Byzantium and Alexandria which, of course, were torn by rival sects led by militant Bishops or zealous heathen. Vide, (Beetle,) Hypatia, and (if Dick Four ever listened, instead of privily swotting up his Euclid, in Church) the Reverend John’s own sermons. Mr. King, who had heard the noise but had not appeared, made no comment till dinner, when he told the Common Room ceiling that he entertained the lowest opinion of Uncle Remus’s buffoonery, but opined that it might interest certain types of intellect. Little Hartopp, School Librarian, who had, by special request, laid in an extra copy of the book, differed acridly. He had, he said, heard or overheard every salient line of Uncle Remus quoted, appositely too, by boys whom he would not have credited with intellectual interests. Mr. King repeated that he was wearied by the senseless and childish repetitions of immature minds. He recalled the Patience epidemic. Mr. Prout did not care for Uncle Remus — the dialect put him off — but he thought the Houses were getting a bit out of hand. There was nothing one could lay hold of, of course —‘As yet,’ Mr. Brownell interjected darkly. ‘But this larking about in form-rooms,’ he added, had potentialities which, if he knew anything of the Animal Boy, would develop — or had developed.’
‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ said the Reverend John. ‘This is the first time to my knowledge that Stalky has ever played second-fiddle to any one. Brer Terrapin was entirely Dick Four’s notion. By the way, he was painted your House-colours, King.’
And at that very hour, Number Five Study —‘prep’ thrown to the winds — were toiling inspiredly at a Tar Baby made up of Beetle’s sweater, and half-a-dozen lavatory-towels; a condemned cretonne curtain and, ditto, baize table-cloth for ‘natal stuffin’’; an ancient, but air-tight puntabout-ball for the head; all three play-box ropes for bindings; and most of Richards’ weekly blacking-allowance for Prout’s House’s boots, to give tone to the whole.
The United Idolaters set forth, side by side, at five o’clock next afternoon; Brer Terrapin, wide awake, and swimming hard into nothing; Tar Baby lurching from side to side with a lascivious abandon that made Foxy, the School Sergeant, taking defaulters’ drill in the Corridor, squawk like an outraged hen. And when they ceremoniously saluted each other, like aristocratic heads on revolutionary pikes, it beat the previous day’s performance out of sight and mind. The very fags, offered up, till the bottoms of the paper-baskets carried away, as heave-offerings before them, fell over each other for the honour; and House by House, when the news spread, dropped its doings, and followed the Mysteries — not without song...
Some say it was a fag of Prout’s who appealed for rescue from Brer Terrapin to Tar Baby; others, that the introits to the respective creeds (‘Ingle-go-jang,’-‘Ti-yi-Tungalee!’) carried in themselves the seeds of dissent. At any rate, the cleavage developed as swiftly as in a new religion, and by tea-time, when they were fairly hoarse, the rolling world was rent to the death between Ingles versus Tungles, and Brer Terrapin had swept out Number Eleven form-room to the War-cry: ‘Here I come a-bulgin’ and a-bilin’.’ Prep stopped further developments, but they agreed that, as a recreation for wet autumn evenings, the jape was unequalled, and called for its repetition on Saturday.
That was a brilliant evening, too. Both sides went into prayers practically re-dressing themselves. There was a smell of singed fag down the lines and a watery eye or so; but nothing to which the most fastidious could have objected. The Reverend John hinted something about roof-lifting noises.
The week, with its three paper-chases, passed uneventfully, but for a certain amount of raiding and reprisals on new lines that might have warned them they were playing with fire. The Juniors had learned to use the sacred war-chants as signals of distress; oppressed Ingles squealing for aid against oppressing Tungles, and vice versa; so that one never knew when a peaceful form-room would flare up in song and slaughter. But not a soul dreamed, for a moment, that that Saturday’s jape would develop into — what it did! They were rigidly punctilious about the ritual; exquisitely careful as to the weights on Miss Meadow’s bed-cord, kindly lent by Richards, who said he knew nothing about mules, but guaranteed it would hold a barge’s crew; and if Dick Four chose to caparison himself as Archimandrite of Joppa, black as burned cork could make him, why, Stalky, in a nightgown kilted up beneath his sweater, was equally the Pope Symmachus, just converted from heathendom but given to alarming relapses.
It began after tea — say 6.50 p.m. It got into its stride by 7.30 when Turkey, with pillows bound round the ends of forms, invented the Royal Battering–Ram Corps. It grew and — it grew till a quarter to nine when the Prefects, most of whom had fought on one side or the other, thought it time to stop and went in with ground-ashes and the bare hand for ten minutes,...
Honours for the action were not awarded by the Head till Monday morning when he dealt out one dozen lickings to selected seniors, eight ‘millies’ (one thousand), fourteen ‘usuals’ (five hundred lines), minor impositions past count, and a stoppage of pocket-money on a scale and for a length of time unprecedented in modern history.
He said the College was within an ace of being burned to the ground when the gas jet in Number Eleven form-room — where they tried to burn Tar Baby, fallen for the moment into the hands of the enemy — was wrenched off, and the lit gas spouted all over the ceiling till some one plugged the pipe with dormitory soap. He said that nothing save his consideration for their future careers kept him from expelling the wanton ruffians who had noosed all the desks in Number Twelve and swept them up in one crackling mound, barring a couple that had pitch-poled through the window. This, again, had been no man’s design but the inspiration of necessity when Tar Baby’s bodyguard, surrounded but defiant, was only rescued at the last minute by Turkey’s immortal flank-attack with the battering-rams that carried away the door of Number Nine. He said that the same remarks applied to the fireplace and mantelpiece in Number Seven which everybody had seen fall out of the wall of their own motion after Brer Terrapin had hitched Miss Meadow’s bed-cord to the bars of the grate.
He said much more, too; but as King pointed out in Common Room that evening, his canings were inept, he had not confiscated the Idols and, above all, had not castigated, as King would have castigated, the disgusting childishness of all concerned.
‘Peradventure,’ King began with due intake of the breath. ‘Peradventure even I might have taken cognizance of the matter both for my own House’s sake and for my colleague’s...No! Folly I concede. Utter childishness and complete absence of discipline in all quarters, as the natural corollary to dabbling in so-called transatlantic humour, I frankly admit. But that there was anything esoterically obscene in the outbreak I absolutely deny.’
‘Given a normal basis of tradition and conduct — certainly,’ Mr. Brownell answered. ‘But with such amazing traditions as exist here, no man with any experience of the Animal Boy can draw your deceptive inferences. That’s all I mean.
Gloves were off in three minutes. Pessimists, no more than poets, love each other and, even when they work together, it is one thing to pessimise congenially with an ancient and tried associate who is also a butt, and another to be pessimised over by an inexperienced junior, even though the latter’s college career may have included more exhibitions — nay, even pot-huntings — than one’s own. The Reverend John did his best to pour water on the flames. Little Hartopp, perceiving that it was pure oil, threw in canfuls of his own, from the wings. In the end, words passed which would have made the Common Room uninhabitable for the future, but that Macrea had written (the Reverend John had seen the letter) saying that his knee was fairly re-knit and he was prepared to take on again at half-term. This happened to be the only date since the Creation beyond which Mr. Brownell’s self-respect would not permit him to stay one hour. It solved the situation, amid puffings and blowings and bitter epigrams, and a most distinguished stateliness of bearing all round, till Mr. Brownell’s departure.
‘My dear fellow!’ said the Reverend John to Macrea, on the first night of the latter’s return. ‘I do hope there was nothing in my letters to you — you asked me to keep you posted — that gave you any idea King wasn’t doing his best with your House according to his lights?’
‘Well, well. You mustn’t judge us too harshly. I dare say there’s a great deal in what you say. Oh, Yes! King’s conduct was inexcusable, absolutely inexcusable! About the smoking? Lamentable, but we must all bow down, more or less, in the House of Rimmon. We have to compete with the Crammers’ Shops.’
To the Head, in the silence of his study, next day: ‘He didn’t seem to me the kind of animal who’d keep to advantage in our atmosphere. Luckily he lost his temper (King and he are own brothers) and he couldn’t withdraw his resignation.’
‘An’ now,’ Turkey yawned. ‘King an’ Macrea’ll jaw for the rest of the term how he ran his house when Macrea was tryin’ to marry fat widows in Switzerland. Mountaineerin’! ‘Bet Macrea never went near a mountain.’
THE new Church Visitor had just left after a twenty minutes’ call. During that time, Mrs. Ashcroft had used such English as an elderly, experienced, and pensioned cook should, who had seen life in London. She was the readier, therefore, to slip back into easy, ancient Sussex (Ts softening to ‘d’s as one warmed) when the ‘bus brought Mrs. Fettley from thirty miles away for a visit, that pleasant March Saturday. The two had been friends since childhood; but, of late, destiny had separated their meetings by long intervals.
Much was to be said, and many ends, loose since last time, to be ravelled up on both sides, before Mrs. Fettley, with her bag of quilt-patches, took the couch beneath the window commanding the garden, and the football-ground in the valley below.
Mrs. Ashcroft shook her head slowly — she never hurried — and went on stitching a sack-cloth lining into a list-bound rush tool-basket. Mrs. Fettley laid out more patches in the Spring light through the geraniums on the window-sill, and they were silent awhile.
The tile-sided cottage trembled at the passage of two specially chartered forty-seat charabancs on their way to the Bush Tye match; a regular Saturday’ shopping’ ‘bus, for the county’s capital, fumed behind them; while, from one of the crowded inns, a fourth car backed out to join the procession, and held up the stream of through pleasure-traffic.
Mrs. Ashcroft put the last firm touches to the basket-lining. She had scarcely finished when her sixteen-year-old grandson, a maiden of the moment in attendance, hurried up the garden-path shouting to know if the thing were ready, snatched it, and made off without acknowledgment. Mrs. Fettley peered at him closely.
‘That boy’s fashion o’ carryin’ his head an’ arms. I haven’t rightly looked at him since he’s growed. Your Jane never showed it, but — him! Why, ’tis Jim Batten and his tricks come to life again!...Eh?’
Mrs. Fettley drew up to buttered toast, currant bread, stewed tea, bitter as leather, some home-preserved pears, and a cold boiled pig’s tail to help down the muffins. She paid all the proper compliments.
‘Nurse says I’m a sight liker to die o’ me indigestion than me leg.’ For Mrs. Ashcroft had a long-standing ulcer on her shin, which needed regular care from the Village Nurse, who boasted (or others did, for her) that she had dressed it one hundred and three times already during her term of office.
Mrs. Fettley stared, with jaw half-dropped, at the grocer’s bright calendar on the wall. The cottage shook again to the roar of the motortraffic, and the crowded football-ground below the garden roared almost as loudly; for the village was well set to its Saturday leisure.
Mrs. Fettley had spoken very precisely for some time without interruption, before she wiped her eyes. ‘And,’ she concluded, ‘they read ‘is death-notice to me, out o’ the paper last month. O’ course it wadn’t any o’ my becomin’ concerns — let be I ‘adn’t set eyes on him for so long. O’ course I couldn’t say nor show nothin’. Nor I’ve no rightful call to go to Eastbourne to see ‘is grave, either. I’ve been schemin’ to slip over there by the ‘bus some day; but they’d ask questions at ‘ome past endurance. So I ‘aven’t even that to stay me.’
The light and air had changed a little with the sun’s descent, and the two elderly ladies closed the kitchen-door against chill. A couple of jays squealed and skirmished through the undraped apple-trees in the garden. This time, the word was with Mrs. Ashcroft, her elbows on the teatable, and her sick leg propped on a stool...
‘‘E said I might go where I pleased for all of ’im. But seein’ ‘e was bedrid, I said I’d ‘tend ’im out. ‘E knowed I wouldn’t take no advantage of ’im in that state. ‘E lasted eight or nine week. Then he was took with a seizure-like; an’ laid stone-still for days. Then ‘e propped ‘imself up abed an’ says: “You pray no man’ll ever deal with you like you’ve dealed with some.” “An’ you?” I says, for you know, Liz, what a rover ‘e was. “It cuts both ways,” says ‘e, “but I’m death-wise, an’ I can see what’s comin’ to you.” He died a-Sunday an’ was buried a-Thursday...An’ yet I’d set a heap by him — one time or — did I ever?’
‘I’m payin’ ye for what ye told me just now. Him bein’ dead, I wrote up, sayin’ I was free for good, to that Mrs. Marshall in Lunnon — which gave me my first place as kitchen-maid — Lord, how long ago! She was well pleased, for they two was both gettin’ on, an’ I knowed their ways. You remember, Liz, I used to go to ’em in service between whiles, for years — when we wanted money, or — or my ‘usband was away — on occasion.’
‘No! ’Twas the woman’s husband this time. An’ so, my man bein’ dead, I went back to them Marshall’s, as cook, to get me legs under a gentleman’s table again, and be called with a handle to me name. That was the year you shifted to Portsmouth.’
‘Well, then, I was a year-abouts in Lunnon, all at a breath, like, four meals a day an’ livin’ easy. Then, ‘long towards autumn, they two went travellin’, like, to France; keepin’ me on, for they couldn’t do without me. I put the house to rights for the caretaker, an’ then I slipped down ’ere to me sister Bessie — me wages in me pockets, an’ all ‘ands glad to be’old of me.’
‘You know, Liz, there wasn’t no cheap-dog pride to folk, those days, no more than there was cinemas nor whisk-drives. Man or woman ‘ud lay hold o’ any job that promised a shillin’ to the backside of it, didn’t they? I was all peaked up after Lunnon, an’ I thought the fresh airs ‘ud serve me. So I took on at Smalldene, obligin’ with a hand at the early potato-liftin, stubbin’ hens, an’ such-like. They’d ha’ mocked me sore in my kitchen in Lunnon, to see me in men’s boots, an me petticoats all shorted.’
‘‘Twadn’t for that I went. You know, ‘s’well’s me, that na’un happens to ye till it ‘as ‘appened. Your mind don’t warn ye before’and of the road ye’ve took, till you’re at the far eend of it. We’ve only a backwent view of our proceedin’s.’
‘The usuals. Everythin’ at first — worse than naught after. I had signs an’ warnings a-plenty, but I took no heed of ’em. For we was burnin’ rubbish one day, just when we’d come to know how ’twas with — with both of us. ’Twas early in the year for burnin’, an’ I said so. “No!” says he. “The sooner dat old stuff’s off an’ done with,” ‘e says, “the better.” ‘Is face was harder’n rocks when he spoke. Then it come over me that I’d found me master, which I ‘adn’t ever before. I’d allus owned ’em, like.’
‘I didn’t. But ‘Arry did...‘Long then, it come time for me to go back to Lunnon. I couldn’t. I clean couldn’t! So, I took an’ tipped a dollop o’ scaldin’ water out o’ the copper one Monday mornin’ over me left ‘and and arm. Dat stayed me where I was for another fortnight.’
Mrs. Ashcroft nodded. ‘An’ after that, we two made it up ‘twixt us so’s ‘e could come to Lunnon for a job in a liv’rystable not far from me. ‘E got it. I’tended to that. There wadn’t no talk nowhere. His own mother never suspicioned how ’twas. He just slipped up to Lunnon, an’ there we abode that winter, not ‘alf a mile ‘tother from each.’
Again Mrs. Ashcroft nodded. ‘Dere wadn’t much I didn’t do for him. ‘E was me master, an’— O God, help us!— we’d laugh over it walkin’ together after dark in them paved streets, an’ me corns fair wrenchin’ in me boots! I’d never been like that before. Ner he! Ner he!’
‘When ‘e paid it all back again, every penny. Then I knowed, but I wouldn’t suffer meself to know. “You’ve been mortal kind to me,” he says. “Kind!” I said. “‘Twixt us?” But ‘e kep’ all on tellin’ me ‘ow kind I’d been an’ ‘e’d never forget it all his days. I held it from off o’ me for three evenin’s, because I would not believe. Then ‘e talked about not bein’ satisfied with ‘is job in the stables, an’ the men there puttin’ tricks on ’im, an’ all they lies which a man tells when ‘e’s leavin’ ye. I heard ’im out, neither ‘elpin’ nor ‘inderin’. At the last, I took off a fiddle brooch which he’d give me an’ I says: “Dat’ll do. I ain’t askin’ na’un’.” An’ I turned me round an’ walked off to me own sufferin’s. ‘E didn’t make ’em worse. ‘E didn’t come nor write after that. ‘E slipped off ’ere back ‘ome to ‘is mother again.’
‘I am...An’ I suffered, like I’d not wish my most arrantest enemies to. God’s Own Name! I went through the hoop that spring! One part of it was ‘eddicks which I’d never known all me days before. Think o’ me with an ‘eddick! But I come to be grateful for ’em. They kep’ me from thinkin’...’
‘I got enough lef’ to last me all my days on earth. It come about through our charwoman’s fiddle girl — Sophy Ellis was ‘er name — all eyes an’ elbers an’ hunger. I used to give ‘er vittles. Otherwhiles, I took no special notice of ‘er, an’ a sight less, o’ course, when me trouble about ‘Arry was on me. But — you know how fiddle maids first feel it sometimes — she come to be crazy-fond o’ me, pawin’ an’ cuddlin’ all whiles; an’ I ‘adn’t the ’eart to beat ‘er off...One afternoon, early in spring ’twas, ‘er mother ‘ad sent ‘er round to scutchel up what vittles she could off of us. I was settin’ by the fire, me apern over me head, halfmad with the ‘eddick, when she slips in. I reckon I was middlin’ short with ‘er. “Lor’!” she says. “Is that all? I’ll take it off you in two-twos!” I told her not to lay a finger on me, for I thought she’d want to stroke my forehead; an’— I ain’t that make. “I won’t tech ye,” she says, an’ slips out again. She ‘adn’t been gone ten minutes ‘fore me old ‘eddick took off quick as bein’ kicked. So I went about my work. Prasin’ly, Sophy comes back, an’ creeps into my chair quiet as a mouse. ‘Er eyes was deep in ‘er ‘ead an’ ‘er face all drawed. I asked ‘er what ‘ad ‘appened. “Nothin’,” she says. “On’y I’ve got it now.” “Got what?” I says. “Your ‘eddick,” she says, all hoarse an’ sticky-tipped. “I’ve took it on me.” “Nonsense,” I says, “it went of itself when you was out. Lay still an’ I’ll make ye a cup o’ tea.” “‘Twon’t do no good,” she says, “till your time’s up. ‘Ow long do your ‘eddicks last?” “Don’t talk silly,” I says, “or I’ll send for the Doctor.” It looked to me like she might be hatchin’ de measles. “Oh, Mrs. Ashcroft,” she says, stretchin’ out ‘er fiddle thin arms. “I do love ye.” There wasn’t any holdin’ agin that. I took ‘er into me lap an’ made much of ‘er. “Is it truly gone?” she says. “Yes,” I says, “an’ if ’twas you took it away, I’m truly grateful.” “’Twas me,” she says, layin’ ‘er cheek to mine. “No one but me knows how.” An’ then she said she’d changed me ‘eddick for me at a Wish ‘Ouse.’
‘A Wish House. No! I’adn’t ‘eard o’ such things, either. I couldn’t get it straight at first, but, puttin’ all together, I made out that a Wish ‘Ouse ‘ad to be a house which ‘ad stood unlet an’ empty long enough for Some One, like, to come an’ in’abit there. She said a fiddle girl that she’d played with in the livery-stables where ‘Arty worked ‘ad told ‘er so. She said the girl ‘ad belonged in a caravan that laid up, o’ winters, in Lunnon. Gipsy, I judge.’
‘Sophy said there was a Wish ‘Ouse in Wadloes Road just a few streets off, on the way to our green-grocer’s. All you ‘ad to do, she said, was to ring the bell an’ wish your wish through the slit o’ the letter-box. I asked ‘er if the fairies give it ‘er? “Don’t ye know,” she says, “there’s no fairies in a Wish ‘Ouse? There’s on’y a Token.”’
‘The caravan-girl ‘ad told ‘er, she said. Well, Liz, it troubled me to ‘ear ‘er, an’ lyin’ in me arms she must ha’ felt it. “That’s very kind o’ you,” I says, holdin’ ‘er tight, “to wish me ‘eddick away. But why didn’t ye ask somethin’ nice for yourself?” “You can’t do that,” she says. “All you’ll get at a Wish ‘Ouse is leave to take some one else’s trouble. I’ve took Ma’s ‘eddicks, when she’s been kind to me; but this is the first time I’ve been able to do aught for you. Oh, Mrs. Ashcroft, I do just-about love you.” An’ she goes on all like that. Liz, I tell you my ‘air e’en a’most stood on end to ‘ear ‘er. I asked ‘er what like a Token was. “I dunno,” she says, “but after you’ve ringed the bell, you’ll ‘ear it run up from the basement, to the front door. Then say your wish,” she says, “an’ go away.” “The Token don’t open de door to ye, then?” I says. “Oh no,” she says. “You on’y ‘ear gigglin’, like, be’ind the front door. Then you say you’ll take the trouble off of ‘oo ever ’tis you’ve chose for your love; an’ yell get it,” she says. I didn’t ask no more — she was too ‘ot an’ fevered. I made much of ‘er till it come time to light de gas, an’ a fiddle after that, ‘er ‘eddick — mine, I suppose — took off, an’ she got down an’ played with the cat.’
‘No. Besides what the Gippo girl ‘ad told ‘er, she knew naught, ‘cept that the charm worked. An’, next after that — in May ’twas — I suffered the summer out in Lunnon. ’Twas hot an’ windy for weeks, an’ the streets stinkin’ o’ dried ‘orsedung blowin’ from side to side an’ lyin’ level with the kerb. We don’t get that nowadays. I ‘ad my ‘ol’day just before hoppin’, an’ come down ’ere to stay with Bessie again. She noticed I’d lost flesh, an’ was all poochy under the eyes.’
Mrs. Ashcroft nodded. ‘The fourth — no, the fifth day. Wednesday ’twas. I knowed ‘e was workin’ at Smalldene again. I asked ‘is mother in the street, bold as brass. She ‘adn’t room to say much, for Bessie — you know ‘er tongue — was talkin’ full-clack. But that Wednesday, I was walkin’ with one o’ Bessie’s chillern hangin’ on me skirts, at de back o’ Chanter’s Tot. Prasin’ly, I felt ‘e was be’ind me on the footpath, an’ I knowed by ‘is tread ‘e’d changed ‘is nature. I slowed, an’ I heard ’im slow. Then I fussed a piece with the child, to force him past me, like. So ‘e ‘ad to come past. ‘E just says “Good-evenin’,” and goes on, tryin’ to pull ‘isself together.’
‘Never! S’runk an’ wizen; ‘is clothes ‘angin’ on ’im like bags, an’ the back of ‘is neck whiter’n chalk. ’Twas all I could do not to oppen my arms an’ cry after him. But I swallered me spittle till I was back ‘ome again an’ the chillern abed. Then I says to Bessie, after supper, “What in de world’s come to ‘Arry Mockler?” Bessie told me ‘e’d been a-Hospital for two months, ‘long o’ cuttin’ ‘is foot wid a spade, muckin’ out the old pond at Smalldene. There was poison in de dirt, an’ it rooshed up ‘is leg, like, an’ come out all over him. ‘E ‘adn’t been back to ‘is job — carterin’ at Smalldene — more’n a fortnight. She told me the Doctor said he’d go off, likely, with the November frostes; an’ ‘is mother ‘ad told ‘er that ‘e didn’t rightly eat nor sleep, an’ sweated ‘imself into pools, no odds ‘ow chill ‘e lay. An’ spit terrible o’ mornin’s. “Dearie me,” I says. “But, mebbe, hoppin’ ‘ll set ’im right again,” an’ I licked me thread-point an’ I fetched me needle’s eye up to it an’ I threads me needle under de lamp, steady as rocks. An’ dat night (me bed was in de wash-house) I cried an’ I cried. An’ you know, Liz — for you’ve been with me in my throes — it takes summat to make me cry.’
‘I come round by cock-crow, an’ dabbed cold tea on me eyes to take away the signs. Long towards nex’ evenin’— I was settin’ out to lay some flowers on me ‘usband’s grave, for the look o’ the thing — I met ‘Arry over against where the War Memorial is now. ‘E was comin’ back from ‘is ‘orses, so ‘e couldn’t not see me. I looked ’im all over, an’ “‘Arry,” I says twix’ me teeth, “come back an’ rest-up in Lunnon.” “I won’t take it,” he says, “for I can give ye naught.” “I don’t ask it,” I says. “By God’s Own Name, I don’t ask na’un! On’y come up an’ see a Lunnon doctor.” ‘E lifts ‘is two ‘eavy eyes at me: “’Tis past that, Gra’,” ‘e says. “I’ve but a few months left.” “‘Arry!” I says. “My man!” I says. I couldn’t say no more. ’Twas all up in me throat. “Thank ye kindly, Gra’,” ‘e says (but ‘e never says “my woman”), an’ ‘e went on upstreet an’ ‘is mother — Oh, damn ‘er!— she was watchin’ for ’im, an’ she shut de door be’ind ’im.’
‘So I went on to the churchyard with my flowers, an’ I remembered my ‘usband’s warnin’ that night he spoke. ‘E was death-wise, an’ it ‘ad ‘appened as ‘e said. But as I was settin’ down de jam-pot on the grave-mound, it come over me there was one thing I could do for ‘Arry. Doctor or no Doctor, I thought I’d make a trial of it. So I did. Nex’ mornin’, a bill came down from our Lunnon green-grocer. Mrs. Marshall, she’d lef’ me petty cash for suchlike — o’ course — but I tole Bess ’twas for me to come an’ open the ’ouse. So I went up, afternoon train.’
‘Yit ’twas a comfort to know I could try this for ’im. So I went an’ I paid the green-grocer’s bill, an’ put ‘is receipt in me hand-bag, an’ then I stepped round to Mrs. Ellis — our char — an’ got the ’ouse-keys an’ opened the ’ouse. First, I made me bed to come back to (God’s Own Name! Me bed to lie upon!). Nex’ I made me a cup o’ tea an’ sat down in the kitchen thinkin’, till ‘long towards dusk. Terrible close, ’twas. Then I dressed me an’ went out with the receipt in me ‘and-bag, feignin’ to study it for an address, like. Fourteen, Wadloes Road, was the place — a liddle basement-kitchen ’ouse, in a row of twenty-thirty such, an’ tiddy strips o’ walled garden in front — the paint off the front doors, an’ na’un done to na’un since ever so long. There wasn’t ‘ardly no one in the streets ‘cept the cats. ’Twas ‘ot, too! I turned into the gate bold as brass; up de steps I went an’ I ringed the front-door bell. She pealed loud, like it do in an empty house. When she’d all ceased, I ‘eard a cheer, like, pushed back on de floor o’ the kitchen. Then I ‘eard feet on de kitchen-stairs, like it might ha’ been a heavy woman in slippers. They come up to de stairhead, acrost the hall — I ‘eard the bare boards creak under ’em — an’ at de front door dey stopped. I stooped me to the letter-box slit, an’ I says: “Let me take everythin’ bad that’s in store for my man, ‘Arry Mockler, for love’s sake.” Then, whatever it was ‘tother side de door let its breath out, like, as if it ‘ad been holdin’ it for to ‘ear better.’
‘Then I went away, an’ a man passin’ says to me: “Didn’t you know that house was empty?” “No,” I says. “I must ha’ been give the wrong number.” An’ I went back to our ’ouse, an’ I went to bed; for I was fair flogged out. ’Twas too ‘ot to sleep more’n snatches, so I walked me about, lyin’ down betweens, till crack o’ dawn. Then I went to the kitchen to make me a cup o’ tea, an’ I hitted meself just above the ankle on an old roastin’ jack o’ mine that Mrs. Ellis had moved out from the corner, her last cleanin’. An’ so — nex’ after that — I waited till the Marshalls come back o’ their holiday.’
‘Oh, Mrs. Ellis an’ Sophy was runnin’ in an’ out soon’s I was back, an’ ‘twixt us we cleaned de house again top-to-bottom. There’s allus a hand’s turn more to do in every house. An’ that’s ‘ow ’twas with me that autumn an’ winter, in Lunnon.’
‘An’ I got what I paid for, with the rest o’ the news. She said the hoppin’ ‘ad set ’im up wonderful. ‘E’d ‘ad six weeks of it, and now ‘e was back again carterin’ at Smalldene. No odds to me ‘ow it ‘ad ‘appened —‘slong’s it ‘ad. But I dunno as my ten shillin’s eased me much. ‘Arry bein’ dead, like, ‘e’d ha’ been mine, till Judgment. ‘Arry bein’ alive, ‘e’d like as not pick up with some woman middlin’ quick. I raged over that. Come spring, I ‘ad somethin’ else to rage for. I’d growed a nasty little weepin’ boil, like, on me shin, just above the boot-top, that wouldn’t heal no shape. It made me sick to look at it, for I’m clean-fleshed by nature. Chop me all over with a spade, an’ I’d heal like turf. Then Mrs. Marshall she set ‘er own doctor at me. ‘E said I ought to ha’ come to him at first go-off, ‘stead o’ drawn’ all manner o’ dyed stockm’s over it for months. ‘E said I’d stood up too much to me work, for it was settin’ very close atop of a big swelled vein, like, behither the small o’ me ankle. “Slow come, slow go,” ‘e says. “Lay your leg up on high an’ rest it,” he says, “an’ ’twill ease off. Don’t let it close up too soon. You’ve got a very fine leg, Mrs. Ashcroft,” ‘e says. An’ he put wet dressin’s on it.’
‘That’s true. An’ Mrs. Marshall was allus at me to make me set down more, an’ dat nigh healed it up. An’ then after a while they packed me off down to Bessie’s to finish the cure; for I ain’t the sort to sit down when I ought to stand up. You was back in the village then, Liz.’
‘I didn’t desire ye to.’ Mrs. Ashcroft smiled. ‘I saw ‘Arry once or twice in de street, wonnerful fleshed up an’ restored back. Then, one day I didn’t see ’im, an’ ‘is mother told me one of ‘is ‘orses ‘ad lashed out an’ caught ’im on the ‘ip. So ‘e was abed an’ middlin’ painful. An’ Bessie, she says to his mother, ’twas a pity ‘Arry ‘adn’t a woman of ‘is own to take the nursin’ off ‘er. And the old lady was mad! She told us that ‘Arry ‘ad never looked after any woman in ‘is born days, an’ as long as she was atop the mowlds, she’d contrive for ’im till ‘er two ‘ands dropped off. So I knowed she’d do watch-dog for me, ‘thout askin’ for bones.’
‘That day,’ Mrs. Ashcroft went on, ‘I’d stood on me feet nigh all the time, watchin’ the doctor go in an’ out; for they thought it might be ‘is ribs, too. That made my boil break again, issuin’ an’ weepin’. But it turned out ‘twadn’t ribs at all, an’ ‘Arry ‘ad a good night. When I heard that, nex’ mornin’, I says to meself, “I won’t lay two an’ two together yit. I’ll keep me leg down a week, an’ see what comes of it.” It didn’t hurt me that day, to speak of —‘seemed more to draw the strength out o’ me like — an’ ‘Arry ‘ad another good night. That made me persevere; but I didn’t dare lay two an’ two together till the week-end, an’ then, ‘Arry come forth e’en a’most ‘imself again — na’un hurt outside ner in of him. I nigh fell on me knees in de washhouse when Bessie was up-street. “I’ve got ye now, my man,” I says. “You’ll take your good from me ‘thout knowin’ it till my life’s end. O God, send me long to live for ‘Arry’s sake!” I says. An’ I dunno that didn’t still me ragin’s.’
‘They come back, plenty times, but, let be how ‘twould, I knowed I was doin’ for ’im. I knowed it. I took an’ worked me pains on an’ off, like regulatin’ my own range, till I learned to ‘ave ’em at my commandments. An’ that was funny, too. There was times, Liz, when my trouble ‘ud all s’rink an’ dry up, like. First, I used to try an’ fetch it on again; bein’ fearful to leave ‘Arry alone too long for anythin’ to lay ‘old of. Prasin’ly I come to see that was a sign he’d do all right awhile, an’ so I saved myself’
‘I’ve gone de better part of a year onct or twice with na’un more to show than the liddle weepin’ core of it, like. All s’rinked up an’ dried off. Then he’d inflame up — for a warnin’— an’ I’d suffer it. When I couldn’t no more — an’ I ‘ad to keep on goin’ with my Lunnon work — I’d lay me leg high on a cheer till it eased. Not too quick. I knowed by the feel of it, those times, dat ‘Arry was in need. Then I’d send another five shillin’s to Bess, or somethin’ for the chillern, to find out if, mebbe, ‘e’d took any hurt through my neglects. ’Twas so! Year in, year out, I worked it dat way, Liz, an’ ‘e got ‘is good from me ‘thout knowin’— for years and years.’
‘Oh, ‘e’s give up carterin’ quite a while. He’s workin’ for one o’ them big tractorisin’ firms — plowin’ sometimes, an’ sometimes off with lorries — fur as Wales, I’ve ‘eard. He comes ‘ome to ‘is mother ‘tween whiles; but I don’t set eyes on him now, fer weeks on end. No odds! ‘Is job keeps ’im from continuin’ in one stay anywheres.’
‘I was sure of it when old Mr. Marshall ‘ad me up to ‘is study an’ spoke a long piece about my faithful service. I’ve obliged ’em on an’ off for a goodish time, but not enough for a pension. But they give me a weekly ‘lowance for life. I knew what that sinnified — as long as three years ago.
‘Oh, dat was why you didn’t more’n finger with your quilt-patches all this while! I was wonderin’...But the pain do count, don’t ye think, Liz? The pain do count to keep ‘Arry where I want ’im. Say it can’t be wasted, like.’
The young lady entered briskly, all the bottles in her bag clicking. ‘Evenin’, Mrs. Ashcroft,’ she began. ‘I’ve come raound a little earlier than usual because of the Institute dance to-na-ite. You won’t ma-ind, will you?
SECURELY, after days
Unnumbered, I behold
Kings mourn that promised praise
Their cheating bards foretold.
Of earth-constricting wars.
Of Princes passed in chains.
Of deeds out-shining stars.
No word or voice remains.
Yet furthest times receive.
And to fresh praise restore.
Mere flutes that breathe at eve.
Mere seaweed on the shore;
A smoke of sacrifice;
A chosen myrtle-wreath;
An harlot’s altered eyes;
A rage ‘gainst love or death;
Glazed snow beneath the moon;
The surge of storm-bowed trees —
The Caesars perished soon.
And Rome Herself: But these
Endure while Empires fall
And Gods for Gods make room...
Which greater God than all
Imposed the amazing doom?
IN the Lodge of Instruction attached to ‘Faith and Works No. 5837 E.C.,’ which has already been described, Saturday afternoon was appointed for the weekly clean-up, when all visiting Brethren were welcome to help under the direction of the Lodge Officer of the day: their reward was light refreshment and the meeting of companions.
This particular afternoon — in the autumn of ‘20 — Brother Burges, P.M., was on duty and, finding a strong shift present, took advantage of it to strip and dust all hangings and curtains, to go over every inch of the Pavement — which was stone, not floorcloth — by hand; and to polish the Columns, Jewels, Working outfit and organ. I was given to clean some Officers’ Jewels — beautiful bits of old Georgian silver-work humanised by generations of elbow-grease — and retired to the organ-loft; for the floor was like the quarterdeck of a battleship on the eve of a ball. Half-a-dozen brethren had already made the Pavement as glassy as the aisle of Greenwich Chapel; the brazen chapiters winked like pure gold at the flashing Marks on the Chairs; and a morose one-legged brother was attending to the Emblems of Mortality with, I think, rouge.
‘Wait till you see the organ,’ Brother Burges replied. ‘You could shave in it when they’ve done. Brother Anthony’s in charge up there — the taxi-owner you met here last month. I don’t think you’ve come across Brother Humberstall, have you?’
Brother Anthony, small, dark, and humpbacked, was hissing groom-fashion while he treated the rich acacia-wood panels of the Lodge organ with some sacred, secret composition of his own. Under his guidance Humberstall, an enormous, flat-faced man, carrying the shoulders, ribs, and loins of the old Mark ‘14 Royal Garrison Artillery, and the eyes of a bewildered retriever, rubbed the stuff in. I sat down to my task on the organ-bench, whose purple velvet cushion was being vacuum-cleaned on the floor below.
‘Now,’ said Anthony, after five minutes’ vigorous work on the part of Humberstall. ‘Now we’re gettin’ somethin’ worth lookin’ at! Take it easy, an’ go on with what you was tellin’ me about that Macklin man.’
‘I— I ‘adn’t anything against ’im,’ said Humberstall, ‘excep’ he’d been a toff by birth; but that never showed till he was bosko absoluto. Mere bein’ drunk on’y made a common ‘ound of ’im. But when bosko, it all came out. Otherwise, he showed me my duties as mess-waiter very well on the ‘ole.’
‘Board or no Board, I ‘adn’t the nerve to stay at ‘ome — not with Mother chuckin’ ‘erself round all three rooms like a rabbit every time the Gothas tried to get Victoria; an’ sister writin’ me aunts four pages about it next day. Not for me, thank you! till the war was over. So I slid out with a draft — they wasn’t particular in ‘17, so long as the tally was correct — and I joined up again with our Circus somewhere at the back of Lar Pug Noy, I think it was.’ Humberstall paused for some seconds and his brow wrinkled. ‘Then I— I went sick, or somethin’ or other, they told me; but I know when I reported for duty, our Battery Sergeant–Major says that I wasn’t expected back, an’— an’, one thing leadin’ to another — to cut a long story short — I went up before our Major–Major — I shall forget my own name next — Major —’
Humberstall dropped the polishing-cloth and knitted his brows again in most profound thought. Anthony turned to me and suddenly launched into a sprightly tale of his taxi’s collision with a Marble Arch refuge on a greasy day after a three-yard skid.
‘Oh no! Ev’ry bolt an’ screw an’ nut on the chassis strained; but nothing carried away, you understand me, an’ not a scratch on the body. You’d never ‘ave guessed a thing wrong till you took ‘er in hand. It was a wop too: ‘ead-on — like this!’ And he slapped his tactful little forehead to show what a knock it had been.
‘We-ell! He told me I wasn’t expected back either; an’ he said ‘e couldn’t ‘ang up the ‘ole Circus till I’d rejoined; an’ he said that my ten-inch Skoda which I’d been Number Three of, before the dump went up at Eatables, had ‘er full crowd. But, ‘e said, as soon as a casualty occurred he’d remember me. “Meantime,” says he, “I particularly want you for actin’ mess-waiter.”
‘“Beggin’ your pardon, ‘Umberstall,” says ‘e, “but I ‘appen to command the Circus! Now, you’re a sharp-witted man,” he says; “an’ what we’ve suffered from fool-waiters in Mess ‘as been somethin’ cruel. You’ll take on, from now — under instruction to Macklin ’ere.” So this man, Macklin, that I was tellin’ you about, showed me my duties... ‘Ammick! I’ve got it! ‘Ammick was our Major, an’ Mosse was Captain!’ Humberstall celebrated his recapture of the name by labouring at the organ-panel on his knee.
‘Sorry! Mother’s often told me I didn’t know my strength. Now, here’s a curious thing. This Major of ours — it’s ail comin’ back to me — was a high-up divorce-court lawyer; an’ Mosse, our Captain, was Number One o’ Mosses Private Detective Agency. You’ve heard of it?‘Wives watched while you wait, an’ so on. Well, these two ‘ad been registerin’ together, so to speak, in the Civil line for years on end, but hadn’t ever met till the War. Consequently, at Mess their talk was mostly about famous cases they’d been mixed up in. ‘Ammick told the Law-courts’ end o’ the business, an’ all what had been left out of the pleadin’s; an’ Mosse ‘ad the actual facts concernin’ the errin’ parties — in hotels an’ so on. I’ve heard better talk in our Mess than ever before or since. It comes o’ the Gunners bein’ a scientific corps.’
‘Well, then,’ Humberstall continued, ‘come on this secret society business that I started tellin’ you about. When those two —‘Ammick an’ Mosse —‘ad finished about their matrimonial relations — and, mind you, they weren’t radishes — they seldom or ever repeated — they’d begin, as often as not, on this Secret Society woman I was tellin’ you of — this Jane. She was the only woman I ever ‘eard ’em say a good word for. ‘Cordin’ to them Jane was a none-such. I didn’t know then she was a Society. ‘Fact is, I only ‘ung out ‘arf an ear in their direction at first, on account of bein’ under instruction for mess-duty to this Macklin man. What drew my attention to her was a new Lieutenant joinin’ up. We called ’im “Gander” on account of his profeel, which was the identical bird. ‘E’d been a nactuary — workin’ out ‘ow long civilians ‘ad to live. Neither ‘Ammick nor Mosse wasted words on ’im at Mess. They went on talking as usual, an’ in due time, as usual, they got back to Jane. Gander cocks one of his big chilblainy ears an’ cracks his cold finger joints. “By God! Jane?” says ‘e. “Yes, Jane,” says ‘Ammick pretty short an’ senior. “Praise ‘Eaven!” says Gander.” It was ‘Bubbly’ where I’ve come from down the line.” (Some damn revue or other, I expect.) Well, neither ‘Ammick nor Mosse was easy-mouthed, or for that matter mealy-mouthed; but no sooner ‘ad Gander passed that remark than they both shook ‘ands with the young squirt across the table an’ called for the port back again. It was a password, all right! Then they went at it about Jane — all three, regardless of rank. That made me listen. Presently, I ‘eard ‘Ammick say —’
‘Me an’ Macklin was refixin’ the sand-bag screens to the dug-out passage in case o’ gas. We never knew when we’d cop it in the ‘Eavies, don’t you see? But we knew we ‘ad been looked for for some time, an’ it might come any minute. But, as I was sayin’, ‘Ammick says what a pity ’twas Jane ‘ad died barren. “I deny that,” says Mosse. “I maintain she was fruitful in the ‘ighest sense o’ the word.” An’ Mosse knew about such things, too. “I’m inclined to agree with ‘Ammick,” says young Gander. “Any’ow, she’s left no direct an’ lawful prog’ny.” I remember every word they said, on account o’ what ‘appened subsequently. I ‘adn’t noticed Macklin much, or I’d ha’ seen he was bosko absoluto. Then ‘e cut in, leanin’ over a packin’-case with a face on ’im like a dead mackerel in the dark. “Pa-hardon me, gents,” Macklin says, “but this is a matter on which I do ‘appen to be moderately well-informed. She did leave lawful issue in the shape o’ one son; an’ ‘is name was ‘Enery James.”
‘“I will,” says Macklin, surgin’ on ‘is two thumbs. An’, mark you, none of ’em spoke! I forget whom he said was the sire of this ‘Enery James-man; but ‘e delivered ’em a lecture on this Jane-woman for more than a quarter of an hour. I know the exact time, because my old Skoda was on duty at ten-minute intervals reachin’ after some Jerry formin’-up area; and her blast always put out the dug-out candles. I relit ’em once, an’ again at the end. In conclusion, this Macklin fell flat forward on ‘is face, which was how ‘e generally wound up ‘is notion of a perfect day. Bosko absoluto!
‘‘E’d never gone beyond the Blue Degrees, ‘e told me. Any’ow, ‘e’d lectured ‘is superior officers up an’ down; ‘e’d as good as called ’em fools most o’ the time, in ‘is toff’s voice. I ‘eard ’im an’ I saw ’im. An’ all he got was — me told off to put ’im to bed! And all on account o’ Jane! Would you have let a thing like that get past you? Nor me, either! Next mornin’, when his stummick was settled, I was at him full-cry to find out ‘ow it was worked. Toff or no toff, ‘e knew his end of a bargain. First, ‘e wasn’t takin’ any. He said I wasn’t fit to be initiated into the Society of the Janeites. That only meant five bob more — fifteen up to date.
‘“You obey orders,” ‘e says, “an’ next time I ask you what you’re thinkin’ about you’ll answer, ‘Tilniz an’ trap-doors,’ in a smart and soldierly manner. I’ll spring that question at me own time. All you’ve got to do is to be distinck.”
‘We settled all this while we was skinnin’ spuds for dinner at the back o’ the rear-truck under our camouflage-screens. Gawd, ‘ow that glue-paint did stink! Otherwise, ‘twasn’t so bad, with the sun comin’ through our pantomime-leaves, an’ the wind marcelling the grasses in the cutting. Well, one thing leading to another, nothin’ further ‘appened in this direction till the afternoon. We ‘ad a high standard o’ livin’ in Mess — an’ in the Group, for that matter. I was talon’ away Mosses lunch — dinner ‘e would never call it — an’ Mosse was fillin’ ‘is cigarette-case previous to the afternoon’s duty. Macklin, in the passage, comin’ in as if ‘e didn’t know Mosse was there, slings ‘is question at me, an’ I give the countersign in a low but quite distinck voice, makin’ as if I ‘adn’t seen Mosse. Mosse looked at me through and through, with his cigarette-case in his ‘and. Then ‘e jerks out ‘arf a dozen — best Turkish — on the table an’ exits. I pinched ’em an’ divvied with Macklin.
‘”‘Eaps an’ ‘eaps,” he says. “But to show you the sort of ’eart I ‘ave, I’ll communicate you all the ‘Igher Degrees among the Janeites, includin’ the Charges, for another Bradbury; but you’ll ‘ave to work, Dobbin.”’
‘What odds? Ac-tually, Gander told us, we couldn’t expect to av’rage more than six weeks longer apiece, an’, any’ow, I never regretted it. But make no mistake — the preparation was somethin’ cruel. In the first place, I come under Macklin for direct instruction re Jane.’
‘Real!’ Humberstall’s voice rose almost to a treble. ‘Jane? Why, she was a little old maid ‘oo’d written ‘alf a dozen books about a hundred years ago. ‘Twasn’t as if there was anythin’ to ’em, either. I know. I had to read ’em. They weren’t adventurous, nor smutty, nor what you’d call even interestin’— all about girls o’ seventeen (they begun young then, I tell you), not certain ‘oom they’d like to marry; an’ their dances an’ card-parties an’ picnics, and their young blokes goin’ off to London on ‘orseback for ‘air-cuts an’ shaves. It took a full day in those days, if you went to a proper barber. They wore wigs, too, when they was chemists or clergymen. All that interested me on account o’ me profession, an’ cuttin’ the men’s ‘air every fortnight. Macklin used to chip me about bein’ an ‘air-dresser. ‘E could pass remarks, too!’
‘Yes. I was after my money’s worth; an’ Macklin, havin’ put ‘is ‘and to the plough, wasn’t one to withdraw it. Otherwise, if I’d pushed ’im, I’d ha’ slew ’im. Our Battery Sergeant Major nearly did. For Macklin had a wonderful way o’ passing remarks on a man’s civil life; an’ he put it about that our B.S.M. had run a dope an’ dolly-shop with a Chinese woman, the wrong end o’ Southwark Bridge. Nothin’ you could lay ‘old of, o’ course; but —’ Humberstall let us draw our own conclusions.
‘That reminds me,’ said Anthony, smacking his lips. ‘I ‘ad a bit of a fracas with a fare in the Fulham Road last month. He called me a paras-tit-ic Forder. I informed ’im I was owner-driver, an’ ‘e could see for ‘imself the cab was quite clean. That didn’t suit ’im. ‘E said it was crawlin’.’
‘One o’ them blue-bellied Bolshies of postwar Police (neglectin’ point-duty, as usual) asked us to flirt a little quieter. My joker chucked some Arabic at ’im. That was when we signed the Armistice. ‘E’d been a Yeoman — a perishin’ Gloucestershire Yeoman — that I’d helped gather in the orange crop with at Jaffa, in the ‘Oly Land!’
‘It ‘ud be ‘ard to say. I know ‘e lived at Hendon or Cricklewood. I drove ’im there. We must ‘ave talked Zionism or somethin’, because at seven next mornin’ him an’ me was tryin’ to get petrol out of a milkshop at St. Albans. They ‘adn’t any. In lots o’ ways this war has been a public noosance, as one might say, but there’s no denyin’ it ‘elps you slip through life easier. The dairyman’s son ‘ad done time on Jordan with camels. So he stood us rum an’ milk.’
‘Jane wasn’t so very ‘ard — not the way Macklin used to put ‘er,’ Humberstall resumed. ‘I ‘ad only six books to remember. I learned the names by ’eart as Macklin placed ’em. There was one called Persuasion, first; an’ the rest in a bunch, except another about some Abbey or other — last by three lengths. But, as I was sayin’, what beat me was there was nothin’ to ’em nor in ’em. Nothin’ at all, believe me.’
‘I mean that ‘er characters was no use! They was only just like people you run across any day. One of ’em was a curate — the Reverend Collins — always on the make an’ lookin’ to marry money. Well, when I was a Boy Scout, ’im or ‘is twin brother was our troop-leader. An’ there was an upstandin’ ‘ard-mouthed Duchess or a Baronet’s wife that didn’t give a curse for any one ‘oo wouldn’t do what she told ’em to; the Lady–Lady Catherine (I’ll get it in a minute) De Bugg. Before Ma bought the ‘airdressin’ business in London I used to know of an ‘olesale grocer’s wife near Leicester (I’m Leicestershire myself) that might ‘ave been ‘er duplicate. And — oh yes — there was a Miss Bates; just an old maid runnin’ about like a hen with ‘er ‘ead cut off, an’ her tongue loose at both ends. I’ve got an aunt like ‘er. Good as gold — but, you know.’
‘Yes, ‘e was a swine of a Major–General, retired, and on the make. They’re all on the make, in a quiet way, in Jane. ‘E was so much of a gentleman by ‘is own estimation that ‘e was always be’avin’ like a hound. You know the sort. ‘Turned a girl out of ‘is own ’ouse because she ‘adn’t any money — after, mark you, encouragin’ ‘er to set ‘er cap at his son, because ‘e thought she had.’
‘That’s right. So would mine. But this Tilney was a man, an’ some’ow Jane put it down all so naked it made you ashamed. I told Macklin that, an’ he said I was shapin’ to be a good Janeite. ‘Twasn’t his fault if I wasn’t. ‘Nother thing, too; ‘avin’ been at the Bath Mineral Waters ‘Ospital in ‘Sixteen, with trench-feet, was a great advantage to me, because I knew the names o’ the streets where Jane ‘ad lived. There was one of ’em — Laura, I think, or some other girl’s name — which Macklin said was ‘oly ground. “If you’d been initiated then,” he says, “you’d ha’ felt your flat feet tingle every time you walked over those sacred pavin’-stones.”
‘”‘Eaven lend me patience!” he says, combin’ ‘is ‘air with ‘is little hands. “Every dam’ thing about Jane is remarkable to a pukka Janeite! It was there,” he says, “that Miss What’s-her-Name” (he had the name; I’ve forgotten it) “made up ‘er engagement again, after nine years, with Captain T’other Bloke.” An’ he dished me out a page an’ a half of one of the books to learn by ’eart — Persuasion, I think it was.’
‘Not as a rule. I was then, though, or else Macklin knew ‘ow to deliver the Charges properly. ‘E said ‘e’d been some sort o’ schoolmaster once, and he’d make my mind resume work or break ‘imself. That was just before the Battery Sergeant–Major ‘ad it in for him on account o’ what he’d been sayin’ about the Chinese wife an’ the dollyshop.’
‘‘Ead-embalmer to an ‘olesale undertaker in the Midlands,’ said Humberstall; ‘but, o’ course, when he thought ‘e saw his chance he naturally took it. He came along one mornin’ lickin’ ‘is lips. “You don’t get past me this time,” ‘e says to Macklin. “You’re for it, Professor.”
‘“For writin’ obese words on the breech o’ the ten-inch,” says the B.S.M. She was our old Skoda that I’ve been tellin’ you about. We called ‘er “Bloody Eliza.” She ‘ad a badly wore obturator an’ blew through a fair treat. I knew by Macklin’s face the B.S.M. ‘ad dropped it somewhere, but all he vow’saifed was, “Very good, Major. We will consider it in Common Room,” The B.S.M, couldn’t ever stand Macklin’s toff’s way o’ puttin’ things; so he goes off rumblin’ like ‘ell’s bells in an ‘urricane, as the Marines say. Macklin put it to me at once, what had I been doin’? Some’ow he could read me like a book.
‘Well, all I’d done — an’ I told ’im he was responsible for it — was to chalk the guns. ‘Ammick never minded what the men wrote up on ’em. ‘E said it gave ’em an interest in their job. You’d see all sorts of remarks chalked on the sideplates or the gear-casin’s.’
‘Oh! ‘Ow Bloody Eliza, or Spittin’ Jim — that was our old Mark Five Nine-point-two — felt that morning, an’ such things. But it ‘ad come over me — more to please Macklin than anythin’ else — that it was time we Janeites ‘ad a look in. So, as I was tellin’ you, I’d taken an’ rechristened all three of ’em, on my own, early that mornin’. Spittin’ Jim I ‘ad chalked “The Reverend Collins”— that Curate I was tellin’ you about; an’ our cut-down Navy Twelve, “General Tilney,” because it was worse wore in the groovin’ than anything I’d ever seen. The Skoda (an’ that was where I dropped it) I ‘ad chalked up “The Lady Catherine De Bugg.” I made a clean breast of it all to Macklin. He reached up an’ patted me on the shoulder. “You done nobly,” he says. “You’re bringin’ forth abundant fruit, like a good Janeite. But I’m afraid your spellin’ has misled our worthy B.S.M. That’s what it is,” ‘e says, slappin’ ‘is little leg. “‘Ow might you ‘ave spelt De Bourgh for example?”
‘I told ’im. ‘Twasn’t right; an’ ‘e nips off to the Skoda to make it so. When ‘e comes back, ‘e says that the Gander ‘ad been before ’im an’ corrected the error. But we two come up before the Major, just the same, that afternoon after lunch; ‘Ammick in the chair, so to speak, Mosse in another, an’ the B.S.M, chargin’ Macklin with writin’ obese words on His Majesty’s property, on active service. When it transpired that me an’ not Macklin was the offendin’ party, the B.S.M, turned ‘is hand in and sulked like a baby. ‘E as good as told ‘Ammick ‘e couldn’t hope to preserve discipline unless examples was made — meanin’, o’ course, Macklin.’
‘“Accordin’ to the unwritten law of the ‘Eavies,” says ‘Ammick, “there’s no objection to the men chalkin’ the guns, if decency is preserved. On the other ‘and,” says he, “we ‘aven’t yet settled the precise status of individuals entitled so to do. I ‘old that the privilege is confined to combatants only.”
‘“With the permission of the Court,” says Mosse, who was another born lawyer, “I’d like to be allowed to join issue on that point. Prisoner’s position is very delicate an’ doubtful, an’ he has no legal representative.”
‘So Macklin went an’ got it, an’ the B.S.M. had ‘is glass with the rest. Then they argued whether mess servants an’ non-combatants was entitled to chalk the guns (‘Ammick versus Mosse). After a bit, ‘Ammick as C.O. give ‘imself best, an’ me an’ Macklin was severely admonished for trespassin’ on combatants’ rights, an’ the B.S.M. was warned that if we repeated the offence ‘e could deal with us summ’rily. He ‘ad some glasses o’ port an’ went out quite ‘appy. Then my turn come, while Macklin was gettin’ them their tea; an’ one thing leadin’ to another, ‘Ammick put me through all the Janeite Degrees, you might say. ‘Never ‘ad such a doin’ m my life.’
‘No need to lie. I told ’em that the backside view o’ the Skoda, when she was run up, put Lady De Bugg into my ‘ead. They gave me right there, but they said I was wrong about General Tilney. ‘Cordin’ to them, our Navy twelve-inch ought to ‘ave been christened Miss Bates. I said the same idea ‘ad crossed my mind, till I’d seen the General’s groovin’. Then I felt it had to be the General or nothin’. But they give me full marks for the Reverend Collins — our Nine-point-two.’
Humberstall sighed heavily as he helped Anthony slide back the organ-panel. We all admired it in silence, while Anthony repocketed his secret polishing mixture, which lived in a tin tobacco-box. I had neglected my work for listening to Humberstall. Anthony reached out quietly and took over a Secretary’s jewel and a rag. Humberstall studied his reflection in the glossy wood.
‘That’s right; but I almost wish I ‘adn’t,’ he sighed. ‘I was ‘appier there than ever before or since. Jerry’s March push in ‘Eighteen did us in; an’ yet, ‘ow could we ‘ave expected it?‘Ow could we ‘ave expected it? We’d been sent back for rest an’ runnin’-repairs, back pretty near our base; an’ our old loco’ that used to shift us about o’ nights, she’d gone down the line for repairs. But for ‘Ammick we wouldn’t even ‘ave ‘ad our camouflage-screens up. He told our Brigadier that, whatever ‘e might be in the Gunnery line, as a leadin’ Divorce lawyer he never threw away a point in argument. So ‘e ‘ad us all screened in over in a cuttin’ on a little spur-line near a wood; an’ ‘e saw to the screens ‘imself. The leaves weren’t more than comin’ out then, an’ the sun used to make our glue-paint stink. Just like actin’ in a theatre, it was! But ‘appy. But ‘appy! I expect if we’d been caterpillars, like the new big six-inch hows, they’d ha’ remembered us. But we was the old La Bassee ‘15 Mark o’ Heavies that ran on rails — not much more good than scrap-iron that late in the war. An’, believe me, gents — or Brethren, as I should say — we copped it cruel. Look ’ere! It was in the afternoon, an’ I was watchin’ Gander instructin’ a class in new sights at Lady Catherine. All of a sudden I ‘eard our screens rip overhead, an’ a runner on a motor-bike come sailin’, sailin’ through the air — like that bloke that used to bicycle off Brighton Pier — and landed one awful wop almost atop o’ the class. “‘Old ‘ard,” says Gander. “That’s no way to report. What’s the fuss?” “Your screens ‘ave broke my back, for one thing,” says the bloke on the ground; “an’ for another, the ‘ole front’s gone.” “Nonsense,” says Gander. ‘E ‘adn’t more than passed the remark when the man was vi’lently sick an’ conked out. ‘E ‘ad plenty papers on ’im from Brigadiers and C.O.‘s reporting ‘emselves cut off an’ askin’ for orders. ‘E was right both ways — his back an’ our front. The ‘ole Somme front washed out as clean as kiss-me —‘and!’ His huge hand smashed down open on his knee.
‘Quicker! Look ’ere! The motor-bike dropped in on us about four pip-emma. After that, we tried to get orders o’ some kind or other, but nothin’ came through excep’ that all available transport was in use and not likely to be released. That didn’t ‘elp us any. About nine o’clock comes along a young Brass ‘At in brown gloves. We was quite a surprise to ’im. ‘E said they were evacuating the area and we’d better shift. “Where to?” says ‘Ammick, rather short.
‘“Oh, somewhere Amiens way,” he says. “Not that I’d guarantee Amiens for any length o’ time; but Amiens might do to begin with.” I’m giving you the very words. Then ‘e goes off swingin’ ‘is brown gloves, and ‘Ammick sends for Gander and orders ’im to march the men through Amiens to Dieppe; book thence to New’aven, take up positions be’ind Seaford, an’ carry on the war. Gander said ‘e’d see ’im damned first. ‘Ammick says ‘e’d see ’im courtmartialled after. Gander says what ‘e meant to say was that the men ‘ud see all an’ sundry damned before they went into Arniens with their gunsights wrapped up in their puttees. ‘Ammick says ‘e ‘adn’t said a word about puttees, an’ carryin’ off the gunsights was purely optional. “Well, anyhow,” says Gander, “puttees or drawers, they ain’t goin’ to shift a step unless you lead the procession.”
‘“Mutinous ‘ounds,” says ‘Amrnick. “But we live in a democratic age. D’you suppose they’d object to kindly diggin’ ‘emselves in a bit?” “Not at all,” says Gander. “The B.S.M.‘s kept ’em at it like terriers for the last three hours.” “That bein’ so,” says ‘Ammick, “Macklin’ll now fetch us small glasses o’ port.” Then Mosse comes inhe could smell port a mile off — an’ he submits we’d only add to the congestion in Amiens if we took our crowd there, whereas, if we lay doggo where we was, Jerry might miss us, though he didn’t seem to be missin’ much that evenin’.
‘The ‘ole country was pretty noisy, an’ our dumps we’d lit ourselves flarin’ heavens — high as far as you could see. Lyin’ doggo was our best chance. I believe we might ha’ pulled it off, if we’d been left alone, but along towards midnight — there was some small stuff swishin’ about, but nothin’ particular — a nice little bald-headed old gentleman in uniform pushes into the dug-out wipin’ his glasses an’ sayin’ ‘e was thinkin’ o’ formin’ a defensive flank on our left with ‘is battalion which ‘ad just come up. ‘Ammick says ‘e wouldn’t form much if ‘e was ’im. “Oh, don’t say that,” says the old gentleman, very shocked. “One must support the Guns, mustn’t one?” “‘Ammick says we was refittin’ an’ about as effective, just then, as a public lav’tory. “Go into Amiens,” he says, “an’ defend ’em there.” “Oh no,” says the old gentleman, “me an’ my laddies must make a defensive flank for you,” an’ he flips out of the dug-out like a performin’ bullfinch, chirruppin’ for his “laddies.” Gawd in ‘Eaven knows what sort o’ push they was — little boys mostly — but they ‘ung on to ‘is coat-tails like a Sunday-school treat, an’ we ‘eard ’em muckin’ about in the open for a bit. Then a pretty tight barrage was slapped down for ten minutes, an’ ‘Ammick thought the laddies had copped it already. “It’ll be our turn next,” says Mosse. “There’s been a covey o’ Gothas messin’ about for the last ‘alf-hour — lookin’ for the Railway Shops, I expect. They’re just as likely to take us.” “Arisin’ out o’ that,” says ‘Ammick, “one of ’em sounds pretty low down now. We’re for it, me learned colleagues!” “Jesus!” says Gander, “I believe you’re right, sir.” And that was the last word I ‘eard on the matter.’
‘They did. I expect Mosse was right, an’ they took us for the Railway Shops. When I come to, I was lyin’ outside the cuttin’, which was pretty well filled up. The Reverend Collins was all right; but Lady Catherine and the General was past prayin’ for. I lay there, takin’ it in, till I felt cold an’ I looked at meself. Otherwise, I ‘adn’t much on excep’ me boots. So I got up an’ walked about to keep warm. Then I saw somethin’ like a mushroom in the moonlight. It was the nice old gentleman’s bald ‘ead. I patted it. ’im and ‘is laddies ‘ad copped it right enough. Some battalion run out in a ‘urry from England, I suppose. They ‘adn’t even begun to dig inpore little perishers! I dressed myself off ’em there, an’ topped off with a British warm. Then I went back to the cuttin’ an’ some one says to me: “Dig, you ox, dig! Gander’s under.” So I ‘elped shift things till I threw up blood an’ bile mixed. Then I dropped, an’ they brought Gander out — dead — an’ laid ’im next me. ‘Ammick ‘ad gone too — fair tore in ‘alf, the B.S.M. said; but the funny thing was he talked quite a lot before ‘e died, an’ nothin’ to ’im below ‘is stummick, they told me. Mosse we never found. ‘E’d been standing by Lady Catherine. She’d up-ended an’ gone back on ’em, with ‘alf the cuttin’ atop of ‘er, by the look of things.’
‘Dunno...‘E was with ‘Ammick. I expect I must ha’ been blown clear of all by the first bomb; for I was the on’y Janeite left. We lost about half our crowd, either under, or after we’d got ’em out. The B.S.M. went off ‘is rocker when mornin’ came, an’ he ran about from one to another sayin’: “That was a good push! That was a great crowd! Did ye ever know any push to touch ’em?” An’ then ‘e’d cry. So what was left of us made off for ourselves, an’ I came across a lorry, pretty full, but they took me in.’
‘They went a long way back. Then I walked a bit, an’ there was a hospital-train fillin’ up, an’ one of the Sisters — a grey-headed one — ran at me wavin’ ‘er red ‘ands an’ sayin’ there wasn’t room for a louse in it. I was past carin’. But she went on talkin’ and talkin’ about the war, an’ her pa in Ladbroke Grove, an’ ‘ow strange for ‘er at ‘er time of life to be doin’ this work with a lot o’ men, an’ next war, ‘ow the nurses ‘ud ‘ave to wear khaki breeches on account o’ the mud, like the Land Girls; an’ that reminded ‘er, she’d boil me an egg if she could lay ‘ands on one, for she’d run a chicken-farm once. You never ‘eard anythin’ like it — outside o’ Jane. It set me off laughin’ again. Then a woman with a nose an’ teeth on ‘er, marched up. “What’s all this?” she says. “What do you want?” “Nothing,” I says, “only make Miss Bates, there, stop talkin’ or I’ll die.” “Miss Bates?” she says. “What in ‘Eaven’s name makes you call ‘er that?” “Because she is,” I says. “D’you know what you’re sayin’?” she says, an’ slings her bony arm round me to get me off the ground. “‘Course I do,” I says, “an’ if you knew Jane you’d know too.” “That’s enough,” says she. “You’re comin’ on this train if I have to kill a Brigadier for you,” an’ she an’ an ord’ly fair hove me into the train, on to a stretcher close to the cookers. That beef-tea went down well! Then she shook ‘ands with me an’ said I’d hit off Sister Molyneux in one, an’ then she pinched me an extra blanket. It was ‘er own ‘ospital pretty much. I expect she was the Lady Catherine de Bourgh of the area. Well, an’ so, to cut a long story short, nothing further transpired.’
‘I expect so. Otherwise, if the old Circus ‘ad been carryin’ on, I might ‘ave ‘ad another turn with ’em before Armistice. Our B.S.M. was right. There never was a ‘appier push. ‘Ammick an’ Mosse an’ Gander an’ the B.S.M. an’ that pore little Macklin man makin’ an’ passin’ an’ raisin’ me an’ gettin’ me on to the ‘ospital train after ‘e was dead, all for a couple of Bradburys. I lie awake nights still, reviewing matters. There never was a push to touch ours — never!’
‘Well, as pore Macklin said, it’s a very select Society, an’ you’ve got to be a Janeite in your ’eart, or you won’t have any success. An’ yet he made me a Janeite! I read all her six books now for pleasure ‘tween times in the shop; an’ it brings it all back — down to the smell of the glue-paint on the screens. You take it from me, Brethren, there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place. Gawd bless ‘er, whoever she was.’
Worshipful Brother Burges, from the floor of the Lodge, called us all from Labour to Refreshment. Humberstall hove himself up — so very a cart-horse of a man one almost expected to hear the harness creak on his back — and descended the steps.
‘‘Im! He’s no more touched liquor than ‘e ‘as women since ‘e was born. No, ‘e’s liable to a sort o’ quiet fits, like. They came on after the dump blew up at Eatables. But for them, ‘e’d ha’ been Battery Sergeant–Major.’
‘‘Is sister told me the dump goin’ up knocked all ‘is Gunnery instruction clean out of ’im. The only thing ‘e stuck to was to get back to ‘is old crowd. Gawd knows ‘ow ‘e worked it, but ‘e did. He fair deserted out of England to ’em, she says; an’ when they saw the state ‘e was in, they ‘adn’t the ’eart to send ’im back or into ‘ospital. They kep’ ’im for a mascot, as you might say. That’s all dead-true. ‘Is sister told me so. But I can’t guarantee that Janeite business, excep’ ‘e never told a lie since ‘e was six. ‘Is sister told me so. What do you think?’
‘But people don’t get so crazy-fond o’ books as all that, do they?‘E’s made ‘is sister try to read ’em. She’d do anythin’ to please him. But, as I keep tellin’ ‘er, so’d ‘is mother. D’you ‘appen to know anything about Jane?’
OH, late withdrawn from human-kind
And following dreams we never knew
Varus, what dream has Fate assigned
To trouble you?
Such virtue as commends the law
Of Virtue to the vulgar horde
Suffices not. You needs must draw
A righteous sword;
And, flagrant in well-doing, smite
The priests of Bacchus at their fane.
Lest any worshipper invite
The God again.
Whence public strife and naked crime
And — deadlier than the cup you shun —
A people schooled to mock, in time.
All law — not one.
Cease, then, to fashion State-made sin.
Nor give thy children cause to doubt
That Virtue springs from iron within —
Not lead without.
NORTH of London stretches a country called ‘The Midlands,’ filled with brick cities, all absolutely alike, but populated by natives who, through heredity, have learned not only to distinguish between them but even between the different houses; so that at meals and at evening multitudes return, without confusion or scandal, each to the proper place.
Last summer, desperate need forced me to cross that area, and I fell into a motor-licence ‘control’ which began in a market-town filled with unherded beeves carrying red numbered tickets on their rumps. An English-speaking policeman inspected my licence on a bridge, while the cattle blundered and blew round the car. A native in plain clothes lolled out an enormous mulberry-coloured tongue, with which he licked a numbered label, precisely like one of those on the behinds of the bullocks, and made to dab it on my wind-screen. I protested. ‘But it will save you trouble,’ he said. ‘You’re liable to be held up for your licence from now on. This is your protection. Everybody does it.’
He slapped it on the glass and I went forward — the man was right — all the cars I met were ‘protected’ as mine was — till I reached some county or other which marked the limit of the witch-doctoring, and entered, at twilight, a large-featured land where the Great North Road ran, bordered by wide way-wastes, between clumps of old timber.
Here the car, without warning, sobbed and stopped. One does not expect the make-and-break of the magneto — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel — to fracture; and by the time we had found the trouble, night shut down on us. A rounded pile of woods ahead took one sudden star to its forehead and faded out; the way-waste melted into the darker velvet of the hedge; another star reflected itself in the glassy black of the bitumened road; and a weak moon struggled up out of a mist-patch from a valley. Our lights painted the grass unearthly greens, and the treeboles bone-white. A church clock struck eleven, as I curled up in the front seat and awaited the progress of Time and Things, with some notion of picking up a tow towards morning. It was long since I had spent a night in the open, and the hour worked on me. Time was when such nights, and the winds that heralded their dawns, had been fortunate and blessed; but those Gates, I thought, were for ever shut...
I diagnosed it as a baker’s van on a Ford chassis, lit with unusual extravagance. It pulled up and asked what the trouble might be. The first sentence sufficed, even had my lights not revealed the full hairless face, the horn-rimmed spectacles, the hooded boots below, and the soft hat, fashioned on no block known to the Eastern trade, above, the yellow raincoat. I explained the situation. The resources of Mr. Henry Ford’s machines did not run to spare parts of my car’s type, but — it was a beautiful night for camping-out. He himself was independent of hotels. His outfit was a caravan hired these months past for tours of Great Britain. He had been alone since his wife died, of duodenal ulcer, five years ago. Comparative Ethnology was his present study. No, not a professor, nor, indeed, ever at any College, but a ‘realtor’— a dealer in real estate in a suburb of the great and cultured centre of Omaha, Nebraska. Had I ever heard of it? I had once visited the very place and there had met an unforgettable funeral-furnisher; but I found myself (under influence of the night and my Demon) denying all knowledge of the United States. I had, I said, never left my native land; but the passion of my life had ever been the study of the fortunes and future of the U.S.A.; and to this end I had joined three Societies, each of which regularly sent me all its publications.
He jerked her on to the grass beside my car, where our mingled lights slashed across the trunks of a little wood; and I was invited into his pitch-pine-lined caravan, with its overpowering electric installation, its flap-table, typewriter, drawers and lockers below the bunk. Then he spoke, every word well-relished between massy dentures; the inky-rimmed spectacles obscuring the eyes, and the face as expressionless as the unrelated voice.
He spoke in capital letters, a few of which I have preserved, on our National Spirit, which, he had sensed, was Homogeneous and in Ethical Contact throughout — Unconscious but Vitally Existent. That was his Estimate of our Racial Complex. It was an Asset, but a Democracy postulating genuine Ideals should be more multitudinously-minded and diverse in Outlook. I assented to everything in a voice that would have drawn confidences from pillar-boxes.
He next touched on the Collective Outlook of Democracy, and thence glanced at Herd Impulse, and the counter-balancing necessity for Individual Self–Expression. Here he began to search his pockets, sighing heavily from time to time.
‘Before my wife died, sir, I was rated a one-hundred-per-cent. American. I am now — but...Have you ever in Our Literature read a book called The Man Without a Country? I’m him!’ He still rummaged, but there was a sawing noise behind the face.
‘And you may say, first and last, drink did it!’ he added. The noise resumed. Evidently he was laughing, so I laughed too. After all, if a man must drink, what better lair than a caravan? At his next words I repented.
‘The Revelation qua Prohibition that came to me on my return back home from her funeral was not along those lines. This is the Platform I stood on.’ I became, thenceforward, one of vast crowds being addressed from that Platform.
‘There are Races, sir, which have been secluded since their origin from the microbes — the necessary and beneficent microbes — of Civ’lisation. Once those microbes are introdooced to ’em, those races re-act precisely in proportion to their previous immunity or Racial Virginity. Measles, which I’ve had twice and never laid by for, are as fatal to the Papuan as pneumonic plague to the White. Alcohol, for them, is disaster, degeneration, and death. Why? You can’t get ahead of Cause and Effect. Protect any race from its natural and God-given bacteria and you automatically create the culture for its decay, when that protection is removed. That, sir, is my Thesis.’
‘The virgin Red Indian fell for the Firewater of the Paleface as soon as it was presented to him. For Firewater, sir, he parted with his lands, his integrity, an’ his future. What is he now? An Ethnological Survival under State Protection. You get me? Immunise, or virg’nise, the Cit’zen of the United States to alcohol, an’ you as surely redooce him to the mental status an’ outlook of that Redskin. That is the Ne-mee-sis of Prohibition. And the Process has begun, sir. Haven’t you noticed it already’— he gulped —‘among Our People?’
‘Then was you ever at Monte Carlo? No? Well, I was — this spring. One of our tourist steamers unloaded three hundred of ’em at the port o’ Veel Franshe; and they went off to Monte Carlo to dine. I saw ’em, sir, come out of the dinner-hall of that vast Hotel opp’site the Cassino there, not drunk, but all — all havin’ drink taken. In that hotel lounge after that meal, I saw an elderly cit’zen up an’ kiss eight women, none of ’em specially young, sittin’ in a circle on the settees; the rest of his crowd applaudin’. Folk just shrugged their shoulders, and the French nigger on the door, I heard him say: “It’s only the Yanks tankin’ up.” It galled me. As a one-hundred-per-cent. American, it galled me unspeakably. And you’ve observed the same thing durin’ the last few years?’
I nodded. The face was working now in the yellow lights reflected from the close-buttoned raincoat. He dropped his hand on his knee and struck it again and again, before he steadied himself with the usual snap and grind of his superb dentist-work.
‘My Rev’lation qua the Peril of Prohibition was laid on me on my return back home in the hour of my affliction. I’d been discussin’ Prohibition with Mrs. Tarworth only the week before. Her best friend, sir, a neighbour of ours, had filled one of the vases in our parlour with chrysanthemums out of a bust wreath. I can’t ever smell to those flowers now ‘thout it all comin’ back. Yes, sir, in my hour of woe it was laid on me to warn my land of the Ne-mee-sis of Presumption. There’s only one Sin in the world — and that is Presumption. Without strong Presumption, sir, we’d never have fixed Prohibition the way we did...An’ when I retired that night I reasoned it out that there was but one weapon for me to work with to convey my message to my native land. That, sir, was the Movies. So I reasoned it. I reasoned it so-oo! Now the Movies wasn’t a business I’d ever been interested in, though a regular attendant...Well, sir, within ten days after I had realised the Scope an’ Imperativeness of my Rev’lation, I’d sold out an’ re-invested so’s everything was available. I quit Omaha, sir, the freest — the happiest — man in the United States.’
‘Sir?— More! It was laid on me to feature the Murder of Immunised America by the Microbe of Modern Civ’lisation which she had presumptuously defied. That text inspired all the titling. Before I arrived at the concept of the Appeal, I was months studyin’ the Movie business in every State of Our Union, in labour and trava-il. The Complete Concept, sir, with its Potential’ties, came to me of a Sunday afternoon in Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa — the centre of our native pearl-button industry. As a boy, sir, I used to go shell-tongin’ after mussels, in a shanty-boat on the Cumberland River, Tennessee, always hopin’ to find a thousand dollar pearl. (The shell goes to Keokuk for manufacture.) I found my pearl in Keokuk — where my Concept came to me! Excuse me!’
The first showed the head of an elderly Red Indian chief in full war-paint, the lined lips compressed to a thread, eyes wrinkled, nostrils aflare, and the whole face lit by so naked a passion of hate that I started.
‘That,’ said Mr. Tarworth, ‘is the Spirit of the Tragedy — both of the Red Indians who initially, and of our Whites who subsequently, sold ‘emselves and their heritage for the Firewater of the Paleface. The Captions run in diapason with that note throughout. But for a Film Appeal, you must have a balanced leet-motif interwoven with the footage. Now this close-up of the Red Man I’m showin’ you, punctuates the action of the dramma. He recurs, sir, watchin’ the progressive degradation of his own people, from the advent of the Paleface with liquor, up to the extinction of his race. After that, you see him, again, more and more dominant, broodin’ over an’ rejoicin’ in the downfall of the White American artificially virg’nised against Alcohol — the identical cycle repeated. I got this shot of Him in Oklahoma, one of our Western States, where there’s a crowd of the richest Red Indians (drawin’ oil-royalties) on earth. But they’ve got a Historical Society that chases ’em into paint and feathers to keep up their race-pride, and for the Movies. He was an Episcopalian and owns a Cadillac, I was told. The sun in his eyes makes him look that way. He’s indexed as “Rum-in-the-Cup” (that’s the element of Popular Appeal), but, say ‘— the voice softened with the pride of artistry —‘ain’t He just it for my purposes?’
‘Now in every Film Appeal, you must balance your leet-motif by balancin’ the Sexes. The American Women, sir, handed Prohibition to Us while our boys were away savin’ you. I know the type —‘born an’ bred with it. She watches throughout the film what She’s brought about — watches an’ watches till the final Catastrophe. She’s Woman Triumphant, balanced against Rum-in-the-Cup — the Degraded Male. I hunted the whole of the Middle West for Her in vain, ‘fore I remembered — not Jordan, but Abanna and Parphar–Mrs. Tarworth’s best friend at home. I was then in Texarkhana, Arkansas, fixin’ up a deal I’ll tell you about; but I broke for Omaha that evenin’ to get a shot of Her. When I arrived so sudden she — she — thought, I guess, I meant to make her Number Two. That’s Her. You wouldn’t realise the Type, but it’s it.’
I looked; saw the trained sweetness and unction in the otherwise hardish, ignorant eyes; the slightly open, slightly flaccid mouth; the immense unconscious arrogance, the immovable certitude of mind, and the other warning signs in the poise of the broad-cheeked head. He was fingering the third photo.
‘And when the American Woman realises the Scope an’ the Impact an’ the Irrevocability of the Catastrophe which she has created by Her Presumption, She–She registers Despair. That’s Her — at the finale.’
It was cruelty beyond justification to have pinned down any living creature in such agony of shame, anger, and impotence among life’s wreckage. And this was a well-favoured woman, her torment new-launched on her as she stood gripping the back of a stamped-velvet chair.
I must have caught my breath, for, as he took the photo back again, he explained: ‘In the Movie business we don’t employ the actool. This is only the Basis we build on to the nearest professional type. That secures controlled emphasis of expression. She’s only the Basis.’
‘Well, sir, having secured my leet-motifs and Sex-balances, the whole of the footage coverin’ the downfall of the Red Man was as good as given me by a bust Congregational Church that had been boosting Prohibition near Texarkhana. That was why I’d gone there. One of their ladies, who was crazy about Our National dealin’s with the Indian, had had the details documented in Washington; an’ the resultant film must have cost her any God’s dollars you can name. It was all there — the Red Man partin’ with his lands and furs an’ women to the early settlers for Rum; the liquor-fights round the tradin’-posts; the Government Agents swindlin’ ’em with liquor; an’ the Indians goin’ mad from it; the Black Hawk War; the winnin’ of the West — by Rum mainly — the whole jugful of Shame. But that film failed, sir, because folk in Arkansaw said it was an aspersion on the National Honour, and, anyway, buying land needful for Our inevitable development was more Christian than the bloody wars of Monarchical Europe. The Congregationalists wanted a new organ too; so I traded a big Estey organ for their film. My notion was to interweave it with parallel modern instances, from Monte Carlo and the European hotels, of White American Degradation; the Main Caption bein’: “The Firewater of the Paleface Works as Indifferently as Fate.” An’ old Rum-in-the-Cup’s close-up shows broodin’— broodin’— broodin’— through it all! You sense my Concept?’
‘I saw it like a vision. But, from there on; I had to rely on my own Complex for intuition. I cut out all modern side-issues — the fight against Prohibition; bootlegging; home-made Rum manufacture; wood-alcohol tragedies, an’ all that dope. ‘Dunno as I didn’t elim’nate to excess. The Revolt of the Red Blood Corpuscules should ha’ been stressed.’
‘Vital! They clean up waste and deleterious matter in the humane system. Under the microscope they rage like lions. Deprive ’em of their job by sterilisin’ an’ virginising the system, an’ the Red Blood Corpuscules turn on the humane system an’ destroy it bodily. Mentally, too, mebbe. Ain’t that a hell of a thought?’
‘It came to me — with the others,’ he replied as simply as Ezekiel might have told a fellow-captive beside Chebar. ‘But it’s too high for a Democracy. So I cut it right out. For Film purposes I assumed that, at an unspecified date, the United States had become virg’nised to liquor. The Taint was out of the Blood, and, apparently, the Instinct had aborted. “The Triumph of Presumption” is the Caption. But from there on, I fell down because, for the film Appeal, you cannot present such an Epoch without featurin’ confirmatory exhibits which, o’ course, haven’t as yet materialised. That meant that the whole Cultural Aspect o’ that Civ’lisation of the Future would have to be built up at Hollywood; an’ half a million dollars wouldn’t cover it. “The Vision of Virg’nised Civ’lisation.” A hell of a proposition! But it don’t matter now.’
‘In my mind? As inevitably, sir, as the Red Man’s Fall through Rum. My notion was a complete Cultural Exposay of a She-dom’nated Civ’hsation, built on a virginal basis qua alcohol, with immensely increased material Productivity (say, there’d be money in that from big Businesses demonstratin’ what they’ll prodooce a hundred years hence), and a side-wipe at the practically non-existent birth-rate.’
‘After that Vision is fully realised, the End comes — as remorselessly for the White as for the Red. How? The American Woman — you will recall the first close-up of that lady I showed you, interweavin’ throughout the narr’tive — havin’ accomplished all She set out to do, wishes to demonstrate to the world the Inteegral Significance of Her Life-work. Why not? She’s never been blamed in Her life. So delib’rately, out of High Presumption, the American Woman withdraws all inhibit’ry legislation, all barriers against Alcohol — to show what She has made of Her Men. The Captions here run —“The Zeenith of Presumption. America Stands by Herself–Guide and Saviour of Humanity.” “Let Evil do Its Damnedest! We are above It.” Say, ain’t that a hell of a thought?’
‘Extrav’gance? In the life of actool men an’ women? It don’t exist. Well, anyway, that’s my top-note before the day-bakkle. There’s an interval while the Great World–Wave is gatherin’ to sweep aside the Children of Presumption. Nothin’ eventuates for a while. The Machine of Virg’nised Civ’lisation functions by its own stored energy. And then, sir — then the World–Wave crashes down on the White as it crashed on the Red Skin! (All this while old Rum-in-the-Cup is growin’ more an’ more dom’nant, as I told you.) But now, owin’ to the artificialised mentality of the victims and the immune pop’lation, its effects are Cataclysmic. “The Alcohol Appeal, held back for five Generations, wakes like a Cyclone.” That’s the Horror I’m stressin’. And Europe, and Asia, and the Ghetto exploit America — cold. “A Virg’nised People let go all holts, and part with their All.” It is no longer a Dom’nationbut an Obsession. Then a Po-ssession! Then come the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe. Why so? Because the liquor’s peddled out, sir, under armed European guards to the elderly, pleadin’ American Whites who pass over their title-deeds — their businesses, fact’ries, canals, sky-scrapers, town-lots, farms, little happy-lookin’ homes — everything — for it. You can see ’em wadin’ into the ocean, from Oyster Bay to Palm Beach, under great flarin’ sunsets of National Decay, to get at the stuff sooner. And Europe’s got ’em by the gullet-peddlin’ out the cases, or a single bottle at a time, to each accordin’ to his need — under the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe.’
‘Sure! But the Appeal is National, and there are some things, sir, that the American People will not stand for. It was Europe or nothing. Otherwise, I could not have stressed the effect of the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe. You see those bay’nets keepin’ order in the vast cathedrals of the new religions — the broken whisky bottles round the altar — the Priest himself, old and virg’nised, pleadin’ and prayin’ with his flock till, in the zeenith of his agony an’ his denunciations, he too falls an’ wallows with the rest of ’em! Extrav’gant? No! Logic. An’ so it spreads, from West to East, from East to West up to the dividin’ line where the European and the Asiatic Liquor Trust have parcelled out the Land o’ Presumption. No paltry rum-peddlin’ at tradin’posts this time, but mile-long electric freight-trains, surgin’ and swoopin’ from San Francisco an’ Boston with their seven thousand ton of alcohol, till they meet head-on at the Liquor Line, an’ you see the little American People fawnin’ an’ pleadin’ round their big wheels an’ tryin’ to slip in under the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe to handle and touch the stuff, even if they can’t drink it. It’s horrible — horrible! “The Wages of Sin!” “The Death of the She–Dom’nated Sons of Presumption!”’
‘There ain’t much more. You see the devirg’nised European an’ the immemorially sophisticated Asiatic, who can hold their liquor, spreadin’ out an’ occupyin’ the land (the signs in the streets register that) like — like a lavva-flow in Honolulu. There’s jest a hint, too, of the Return of the Great Scourge, an’ how it fed on all this fresh human meat. Jest a few feet of the flesh rottin’ off the bones —‘same as when Syph’lis originated in the Re-nay-sanse Epoch. Last of all — date not specified — will be the herdin’ of the few survivin’ Americans into their reservation in the Yellowstone Park by a few slouchin’, crippled, remnants of the Redskins. ‘Get me? “Presumption’s Ultimate Reward.” “The Wheel Comes Full Circle.” An’ the final close-up of Rum-in-the-Cup with his Hate–Mission accomplished.’
‘I shot that,’ he said, ‘when I was in the Yellowstone. It’s a document to build up my Last Note on. They’re jest a party of tourists watchin’ grizzly bears rakin’ in the hotel dumpheaps (they keep ’em to show). That wet light hits back well off their clothes, don’t it?’
I saw six or seven men and women, in pale-coloured raincoats, gathered, with no pretence at pose, in a little glade. One man was turning up his collar, another stooping to a bootlace, while a woman opened her umbrella over him. They faced towards a dimly defined heap of rubbish and tins; and they looked unutterably mean.
‘Not to me, sir. My Church — I’m a Fundamentalist, an’ I didn’t read ’em more than half the scenario — started out by disownin’ me for aspersin’ the National Honour. A bunch of our home papers got holt of it next. They said I was a ren’gade an’ done it for dollars. An’ then the ladies on the Social Betterment an’ Uplift Committees took a hand. In your country you don’t know the implications of that! I’m — I’m a one-hundred-per-cent. American, but — I didn’t know what men an’ women are. I guess none of us do at home, or we’d say so, instead o’ playin’ at being American Cit’zens. There’s no law with Us under which a man can be jailed for aspersin’ the National Honour. There’s no need. It got into the Legislature, an’ one Senator there he spoke for an hour, demandin’ to have me unanimously an’ internationally disavowed by — by my Maker, I presoom. No one else stood by me. I’d been to the big Jew combines that control the Movie business m our country. I’d been to Heuvelstein — he represents sixty-seven million dollars’ interests. They say he’s never read a scenario in his life. He read every last word of mine aloud. He laughed some, but he said he was doin’ well in a small way, and he didn’t propose to start up any pogroms against the Chosen in New York. He said I was ahead of my time. I know that. An’ then — my wife’s best friend was back of this — folk at home got talkin’ about callin’ for an inquiry into my state o’ mind, an’ whether I was fit to run my own affairs. I saw a lawyer or two over that, an’ I came to a realism’ sense of American Law an’ Justice. That was another of the things I didn’t know. It made me sick to my stummick, sir — sick with physical an’ mental terror an’ dread. So I quit. I changed my name an’ quit two years back. Those ancient prophets an’ martyrs haven’t got much on me in the things a Democracy hands you if you don’t see eye to eye with it. Therefore, I have no abidin’-place except this old caravan. Now, sir, we two are like ships that pass in the night, except, as I said, I’ll be very pleased to tow you into Doncaster this morning. Is there anythin’ about me strikes you in anyway as deviatin’ from sanity?’
Once again he ground his jaws. There did not seem to be much left to say. The heat in the shut caravan was more and more oppressive. Time had stood still with me listening. I was aware now that the owls had ceased hooting and that a night had gone out of the world. I rose from the bunk. Mr. Tarworth, carefully rebuttoning his raincoat, opened the door.
Daylight was just on the heels of dawn, with the sun following. The icy-blackness of the Great North Road banded itself with smoking mists that changed from solid pearl to writhing opal, as they lifted above hedge-row level. The dew-wet leaves of the upper branches turned suddenly into diamond facets, and that wind, which runs before the actual upheaval of the sun, swept out of the fragrant lands to the East, and touched my cheek — as many times it had touched it before, on the edge, or at the ends, of inconceivable experiences.
My companion breathed deeply, while the low glare searched the folds of his coat and the sags and wrinkles of his face. We heard the far-away pulse of a car through the infinite, clean-born, light-filled stillness. It neared and stole round the bend — a motor-hearse on its way to some early or distant funeral, one side of the bright oak coffin showing beneath the pall, which had slipped a little. Then it vanished in a blaze of wet glory from the sun-drenched road, amid the songs of a thousand birds.
Then he set himself, kindly and efficiently, to tow me towards Doncaster, where, when the day’s life should begin again, one might procure a new magneto make-and-break — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel, failure of which immobilises any car.
GOW (to Ferdinand). The Queen’s host would be delivered me today-but that these Mountain Men have sent battalia to hold the Pass. They’re shod, helmed and torqued with soft gold. For the rest, naked. By no argument can I persuade ’em their gilt carcasses against my bombards avail not. What’s to do, Fox?
FERDINAND. Fatherless folk go furthest. These loud pagans Are doubly fatherless. Consider; they came Over the passes, out of all man’s world — Adullamites, unable to endure Its ancient pinch and belly-ache — full of revenges Or wilfully forgetful. The land they found Was manless — her raw airs uncloven by speech. Earth without wheel-track, hoof-mark, hearth or ploughshare Since God created; nor even a cave where men. When night was a new thing, had hid themselves.
GOW. Amen! I’m no disposed murderer. (To the Mountain Men) Most magnificent Senors! Lords of all Suns, Moons, Firmaments–Sole Architects of Yourselves and this present Universe! Yon Philosopher in the hairy cloak bids me wait only a thousand years, till ye’ve sorted yourselves more to the likeness of mankind.
GOW. (That a few feet of snow on a nest of rocky mountains should have hatched this dream-people!) (To Priest) Ye have reason in nature — all you’ve known of it...But — a thousand years — I fear they will not suffice.
I had attacked the distance several times, but always with a Mistral blowing, or the unchancy cattle of those parts on the move. But once, running from the East, into a high-piled, almost Egyptian, sunset, there came a night which it would have been sin to have wasted. It was warm with the breath of summer in advance; moonlit till the shadow of every rounded pebble and pointed cypress wind-break lay solid on that vast flat-floored waste; and my Mr. Leggatt, who had slipped out to make sure, reported that the roadsurface was unblemished.
There sat beside me at table d’hote an elderly, bearded Frenchman wearing the rosette of by no means the lowest grade of the Legion of Honour, who had arrived in a talkative Citroen. I gathered that he had spent much of his life in the French Colonial Service in Annam and Tonquin. When the war came, his years barring him from the front line, he had supervised Chinese wood-cutters who, with axe and dynamite, deforested the centre of France for trench-props. He said my chauffeur had told him that I contemplated an experiment. He was interested in cars — had admired mine — would, in short, be greatly indebted to me if I permitted him to assist as an observer. One could not well refuse; and, knowing my Mr. Leggatt, it occurred to me there might also be a bet in the background.
While he went to get his coat, I asked the proprietor his name. ‘Voiron–Monsieur Andre Voiron,’ was the reply. ‘And his business?’ ‘Mon Dieu! He is Voiron! He is all those things, there!’ The proprietor waved his hands at brilliant advertisements on the dining-room walls, which declared that Voiron Freres dealt in wines, agricultural implements, chemical manures, provisions and produce throughout that part of the globe.
He said little for the first five minutes of our trip, and nothing at all for the next ten — it being, as Leggatt had guessed, Esmeralda’s night out. But, when her indicator climbed to a certain figure and held there for three blinding kilometres, he expressed himself satisfied, and proposed to me that we should celebrate the event at the hotel. ‘I keep yonder,’ said he, ‘a wine on which I should value your opinion.’
On our return, he disappeared for a few minutes, and I heard him rumbling in a cellar. The proprietor presently invited me to the dining-room, where, beneath one frugal light, a table had been set with local dishes of renown. There was, too, a bottle beyond most known sizes, marked black on red, with a date. Monsieur Voiron opened it, and we drank to the health of my car. The velvety, perfumed liquor, between fawn and topaz, neither too sweet nor too dry, creamed in its generous glass. But I knew no wine composed of the whispers of angels’ wings, the breath of Eden and the foam and pulse of Youth renewed. So I asked what it might be.
I bowed my head in admiration, surrender, and joy. There stood the most ample bottle, and it was not yet eleven o’clock. Doors locked and shutters banged throughout the establishment. Some last servant yawned on his way to bed. Monsieur Voiron opened a window and the moonlight flooded in from a small pebbled court outside. One could almost hear the town of Chambres breathing in its first sleep. Presently, there was a thick noise in the air, the passing of feet and hooves, lowings, and a stifled bark or two. Dust rose over the courtyard wall, followed by the strong smell of cattle.
‘They are moving some beasts,’ said Monsieur Voiron, cocking an ear. ‘Mine, I think. Yes, I hear Christophe. Our beasts do not like automobiles — so we move at night. You do not know our country — the Crau, here, or the Camargue? I was — I am now, again — of it. All France is good; but this is the best.’ He spoke, as only a Frenchman can, of his own loved part of his own lovely land.
‘For myself, if I were not so involved in all these affairs’— he pointed to the advertisements —‘I would live on our farm with my cattle, and worship them like a Hindu. You know our cattle of the Camargue, Monsieur? No? It is not an acquaintance to rush upon lightly. There are no beasts like them. They have a mentality superior to that of others. They graze and they ruminate, by choice, facing our Mistral, which is more than some automobiles will do. Also they have in them the potentiality of thought — and when cattle think — I have seen what arrives.’
‘Monsieur, when your sportif chauffeur camouflaged your limousine so that she resembled one of your Army lorries, I would not believe her capacities. I bet him — ah — two to one — she would not touch ninety kilometres. It was proved that she could. I can give you no proof, but will you believe me if I tell you what a beast who thinks can achieve?’
‘That is true! Everything inconceivable has happened; but still we learn nothing and we believe nothing. When I was a child in my father’s house — before I became a Colonial Administrator — my interest and my affection were among our cattle. We of the old rock live here — have you seen?— in big farms like castles. Indeed, some of them may have been Saracenic. The barns group round them — great white-walled barns, and yards solid as our houses. One gate shuts all. It is a world apart; an administration of all that concerns beasts. It was there I learned something about cattle. You see, they are our playthings in the Camargue and the Crau. The boy measures his strength against the calf that butts him in play among the manure-heaps. He moves in and out among the cows, who are — not so amiable. He rides with the herdsmen in the open to shift the herds. Sooner or later, he meets as bulls the little calves that knocked him over. So it was with me — till it became necessary that I should go to our Colonies.’ He laughed. ‘Very necessary. That is a good time in youth, Monsieur, when one does these things which shock our parents. Why is it always Papa who is so shocked and has never heard of such things — and Mamma who supplies the excuses?...And when my brother — my elder who stayed and created the business — begged me to return and help him, I resigned my Colonial career gladly enough. I returned to our own lands, and my well-loved, wicked white and yellow cattle of the Camargue and the Crau. My Faith, I could talk of them all night, for this stuff unlocks the heart, without making repentance in the morning...Yes! It was after the War that this happened. There was a calf, among Heaven knows how many of ours — a bull-calf — an infant indistinguishable from his companions. He was sick, and he had been taken up with his mother into the big farmyard at home with us. Naturally the children of our herdsmen practised on him from the first. It is in their blood. The Spaniards make a cult of bull-fighting. Our little devils down here bait bulls as automatically as the English child kicks or throws balls. This calf would chase them with his eyes open, like a cow when she hunts a man. They would take refuge behind our tractors and wine-carts in the centre of the yard: he would chase them in and out as a dog hunts rats. More than that, he would study their psychology, his eyes in their eyes. Yes, he watched their faces to divine which way they would run. He himself, also, would pretend sometimes to charge directly at a boy. Then he would wheel right or left — one could never tell — and knock over some child pressed against a wall who thought himself safe. After this, he would stand over him, knowing that his companions must come to his aid; and when they were all together, waving their jackets across his eyes and pulling his tail, he would scatter them — how he would scatter them! He could kick, too, sideways like a cow. He knew his ranges as well as our gunners, and he was as quick on his feet as our Carpentier. I observed him often. Christophe — the man who passed just now — our chief herdsman, who had taught me to ride with our beasts when I was ten — Christophe told me that he was descended from a yellow cow of those days that had chased us once into the marshes. “He kicks just like her,” said Christophe. “He can side-kick as he jumps. Have you seen, too, that he is not deceived by the jacket when a boy waves it? He uses it to find the boy. They think they are feeling him. He is feeling them always. He thinks, that one.” I had come to the same conclusion. Yes — the creature was a thinker along the lines necessary to his sport; and he was a humorist also, like so many natural murderers. One knows the type among beasts as well as among men. It possesses a curious truculent mirth — almost indecent but infallibly significant —’
‘They kept him for some time in the yards to practise upon. Naturally he became a little brutal; so Christophe turned him out to learn manners among his equals in the grazing lands, where the Camargue joins the Crau. How old was he then? About eight or nine months, I think. We met again a few months later — he and I. I was riding one of our little half-wild horses, along a road of the Crau, when I found myself almost unseated. It was he! He had hidden himself behind a wind-break till we passed, and had then charged my horse from behind. Yes, he had deceived even my little horse! But I recognised him. I gave him the whip across the nose, and I said: “Apis, for this thou goest to Arles! It was unworthy of thee, between us two.” But that creature had no shame. He went away laughing, like an Apache. If he had dismounted me, I do not think it is I who would have laughed — yearling as he was.’
‘For the bull-ring. When your charming tourists leave us, we institute our little amusements there. Not a real bull-fight, you understand, but young bulls with padded horns, and our boys from hereabouts and in the city go to play with them. Naturally, before we send them we try them in our yards at home. So we brought up Apis from his pastures. He knew at once that he was among the friends of his youth — he almost shook hands with them — and he submitted like an angel to padding his horns. He investigated the carts and tractors in the yards, to choose his lines of defence and attack. And then — he attacked with an elan, and he defended with a tenacity and forethought that delighted us. In truth, we were so pleased that I fear we trespassed upon his patience. We desired him to repeat himself, which no true artist will tolerate. But he gave us fair warning. He went out to the centre of the yard, where there was some dry earth; he kneeled down and — you have seen a calf whose horns fret him thrusting and rooting into a bank? He did just that, very deliberately, till he had rubbed the pads off his horns. Then he rose, dancing on those wonderful feet that twinkled, and he said: “Now, my friends, the buttons are off the foils. Who begins?” We understood. We finished at once. He was turned out again on the pastures till it should be time to amuse them at our little metropolis. But, some time before he went to Arles — yes, I think I have it correctly — Christophe, who had been out on the Crau, informed me that Apis had assassinated a young bull who had given signs of developing into a rival. That happens, of course, and our herdsmen should prevent it. But Apis had killed in his own style — at dusk, from the ambush of a wind-break — by an oblique charge from behind which knocked the other over. He had then disembowelled him. All very possible, but — the murder accomplished — Apis went to the bank of a wind-break, knelt, and carefully, as he had in our yard, cleaned his horns in the earth. Christophe, who had never seen such a thing, at once borrowed (do you know, it is most efficacious when taken that way?) some Holy Water from our little chapel in those pastures, sprinkled Apis (whom it did not affect), and rode in to tell me. It was obvious that a thinker of that bull’s type would also be meticulous in his toilette; so, when he was sent to Arles, I warned our consignees to exercise caution with him. Happily, the change of scene, the music, the general attention, and the meeting again with old friends — all our bad boys attended — agreeably distracted him. He became for the time a pure farceur again; but his wheelings, his rushes, his rat-huntings were more superb than ever. There was in them now, you understand, a breadth of technique that comes of reasoned art, and, above all, the passion that arrives after experience. Oh, he had learned, out there on the Crau! At the end of his little turn, he was, according to local rules, to be handled in all respects except for the sword, which was a stick, as a professional bull who must die. He was manoeuvred into, or he posed himself in, the proper attitude; made his rush; received the point on his shoulder and then — turned about and cantered toward the door by which he had entered the arena. He said to the world: “My friends, the representation is ended. I thank you for your applause. I go to repose myself.” But our Arlesians, who are — not so clever as some, demanded an encore, and Apis was headed back again. We others from his country, we knew what would happen. He went to the centre of the ring, kneeled, and, slowly, with full parade, plunged his horns alternately in the dirt till the pads came off. Christophe shouts: “Leave him alone, you straight-nosed imbeciles! Leave him before you must.” But they required emotion; for Rome has always debauched her loved Provincia with bread and circuses. It was given. Have you, Monsieur, ever seen a servant, with pan and broom, sweeping round the base-board of a room? In a half-minute Apis has them all swept out and over the barrier. Then he demands once more that the door shall be opened to him. It is opened and he retires as though — which, truly, is the case — loaded with laurels.’
‘I am arranging it in my mind. It is difficult to do it justice. Afterwards — yes, afterwards — Apis returned to his pastures and his mistresses and I to my business. I am no longer a scandalous old “sportif” in shirt-sleeves howling encouragement to the yellow son of a cow. I revert to Voiron Freres-wines, chemical manures, et cetera. And next year, through some chicane which I have not the leisure to unravel, and also, thanks to our patriarchal system of paying our older men out of the increase of the herds, old Christophe possesses himself of Apis. Oh, yes, he proves it through descent from a certain cow that my father had given his father before the Republic. Beware, Monsieur, of the memory of the illiterate man! An ancestor of Christophe had been a soldier under our Soult against your Beresford, near Bayonne. He fell into the hands of Spanish guerrillas. Christophe and his wife used to tell me the details on certain Saints’ Days when I was a child. Now, as compared with our recent war, Soult’s campaign and retreat across the Bidassoa —’
‘You do not know Christophe. He had sold him to the Spaniards before he informed me. The Spaniards pay in coin — douros of very pure silver. Our peasants mistrust our paper. You know the saying: “A thousand francs paper; eight hundred metal, and the cow is yours.” Yes, Christophe sold Apis, who was then two and a half years old, and to Christophe’s knowledge thrice at least an assassin.’
‘Oh, his own kind only; and always, Christophe told me, by the same oblique rush from behind, the same sideways overthrow, and the same swift disembowelment, followed by this levitical cleaning of the horns. In human life he would have kept a manicurist — this Minotaur. And so, Apis disappears from our country. That does not trouble me. I know in due time I shall be advised. Why? Because, in this land, Monsieur, not a hoof moves between Berre and the Saintes Maries without the knowledge of specialists such as Christophe. The beasts are the substance and the drama of their lives to them. So when Christophe tells me, a little before Easter Sunday, that Apis makes his debut in the bull-ring of a small Catalan town on the road to Barcelona, it is only to pack my car and trundle there across the frontier with him. The place lacked importance and manufactures, but it had produced a matador of some reputation, who was condescending to show his art in his native town. They were even running one special train to the place. Now our French railway system is only execrable, but the Spanish —’
‘Naturally. It was not too good. Villamarti was the matador’s name. He proposed to kill two bulls for the honour of his birthplace. Apis, Christophe told me, would be his second. It was an interesting trip, and that little city by the sea was ravishing. Their bull-ring dates from the middle of the seventeenth century. It is full of feeling. The ceremonial too — when the horsemen enter and ask the Mayor in his box to throw down the keys of the bull-ring — that was exquisitely conceived. You know, if the keys are caught in the horseman’s hat, it is considered a good omen. They were perfectly caught. Our seats were in the front row beside the gates where the bulls enter, so we saw everything.
‘Villamarti’s first bull was not too badly killed. The second matador, whose name escapes me, killed his without distinction — a foil to Villamarti. And the third, Chisto, a laborious, middle-aged professional who had never risen beyond a certain dull competence, was equally of the background. Oh, they are as jealous as the girls of the Comedie Francaise, these matadors! Villamarti’s troupe stood ready for his second bull. The gates opened, and we saw Apis, beautifully balanced on his feet, peer coquettishly round the corner, as though he were at home. A picador — a mounted man with the long lance-goad — stood near the barrier on his right. He had not even troubled to turn his horse, for the capeadors — the men with the cloaks — were advancing to play Apis — to feel his psychology and intentions, according to the rules that are made for bulls who do not think...I did not realise the murder before it was accomplished! The wheel, the rush, the oblique charge from behind, the fall of horse and man were simultaneous. Apis leaped the horse, with whom he had no quarrel, and alighted, all four feet together (it was enough), between the man’s shoulders, changed his beautiful feet on the carcass, and was away, pretending to fall nearly on his nose. Do you follow me? In that instant, by that stumble, he produced the impression that his adorable assassination was a mere bestial blunder. Then, Monsieur, I began to comprehend that it was an artist we had to deal with. He did not stand over the body to draw the rest of the troupe. He chose to reserve that trick. He let the attendants bear out the dead, and went on to amuse himself among the capeadors. Now to Apis, trained among our children in the yards, the cloak was simply a guide to the boy behind it. He pursued, you understand, the person, not the propaganda — the proprietor, not the journal. If a third of our electors of France were as wise, my friend!...But it was done leisurely, with humour and a touch of truculence. He romped after one man’s cloak as a clumsy dog might do, but I observed that he kept the man on his terrible left side. Christophe whispered to me: “Wait for his mother’s kick. When he has made the fellow confident it will arrive.” It arrived in the middle of a gambol. My God! He lashed out in the air as he frisked. The man dropped like a sack, lifted one hand a little towards his head, and — that was all. So you see, a body was again at his disposition; a second time the cloaks ran up to draw him off, but, a second time, Apis refused his grand scene. A second time he acted that his murder was accident and he convinced his audience! It was as though he had knocked over a bridge-gate in the marshes by mistake. Unbelievable? I saw it.’
‘But Apis was not the sole artist present. They say Villamarti comes of a family of actors. I saw him regard Apis with a new eye. He, too, began to understand. He took his cloak and moved out to play him before they should bring on another picador. He had his reputation. Perhaps Apis knew it. Perhaps Villamarti reminded him of some boy with whom he had practised at home. At any rate Apis permitted it — up to a certain point; but he did not allow Villamarti the stage. He cramped him throughout. He dived and plunged clumsily and slowly, but always with menace and always closing in. We could see that the man was conforming to the bull — not the bull to the man; for Apis was playing him towards the centre of the ring, and, in a little while — I watched his face — Villamarti knew it. But I could not fathom the creature’s motive. “Wait,” said old Christophe. “He wants that picador on the white horse yonder. When he reaches his proper distance he will get him. Villamarti is his cover. He used me once that way.” And so it was, my friend! With the clang of one of our own Seventy-fives, Apis dismissed Villamarti with his chest — breasted him over — and had arrived at his objective near the barrier. The same oblique charge; the head carried low for the sweep of the horns; the immense sideways fall of the horse, broken-legged and half-paralysed; the senseless man on the ground, and — behold Apis between them, backed against the barrier — his right covered by the horse; his left by the body of the man at his feet. The simplicity of it! Lacking the carts and tractors of his early parade-grounds he, being a genius, had extemporised with the materials at hand, and dug himself in. The troupe closed up again, their left wing broken by the kicking horse, their right immobilised by the man’s body which Apis bestrode with significance. Villamarti almost threw himself between the horns, but — it was more an appeal than an attack. Apis refused him. He held his base. A picador was sent at him — necessarily from the front, which alone was open. Apis charged — he who, till then, you realise, had not used the horn! The horse went over backwards, the man half beneath him. Apis halted, hooked him under the heart, and threw him to the barrier. We heard his head crack, but he was dead before he hit the wood. There was no demonstration from the audience. They, also, had begun to realise this Foch among bulls! The arena occupied itself again with the dead. Two of the troupe irresolutely tried to play him — God knows in what hope!— but he moved out to the centre of the ring. “Look!” said Christophe. “Now he goes to clean himself. That always frightened me.” He knelt down; he began to clean his horns. The earth was hard. He worried at it in an ecstasy of absorption. As he laid his head along and rattled his ears, it was as though he were interrogating the Devils themselves upon their secrets, and always saying impatiently: “Yes, I know that — and that — and that! Tell me more — more!’ In the silence that covered us, a woman cried: “He digs a grave! Oh, Saints, he digs a grave!” Some others echoed this — not loudly — as a wave echoes in a grotto of the sea.’
‘And when his horns were cleaned, he rose up and studied poor Villamarti’s troupe, eyes in eyes, one by one, with the gravity of an equal in intellect and the remote and merciless resolution of a master in his art. This was more terrifying than his toilette.’
‘Like the audience, were dominated. They had ceased to posture, or stamp, or address insults to him. They conformed to him. The two other matadors stared. Only Chisto, the oldest, broke silence with some call or other, and Apis turned his head towards him. Otherwise he was isolated, immobile — sombre — meditating on those at his mercy. Ah!
For some reason the trumpet sounded for the banderillas — those gay hooked darts that are planted in the shoulders of bulls who do not think, after their neck-muscles are tired by lifting horses. When such bulls feel the pain, they check for an instant, and, in that instant, the men step gracefully aside. Villamarti’s banderillero answered the trumpet mechanically — like one condemned. He stood out, poised the darts and stammered the usual patter of invitation...And after? I do not assert that Apis shrugged his shoulders, but he reduced the episode to its lowest elements, as could only a bull of Gaul. With his truculence was mingled always — owing to the shortness of his tail — a certain Rabelaisian abandon, especially when viewed from the rear. Christophe had often commented upon it. Now, Apis brought that quality into play. He circulated round that boy, forcing him to break up his beautiful poses. He studied him from various angles, like an incompetent photographer. He presented to him every portion of his anatomy except his shoulders. At intervals he feigned to run in upon him. My God, he was cruel! But his motive was obvious. He was playing for a laugh from the spectators which should synchronise with the fracture of the human morale. It was achieved. The boy turned and ran towards the barrier. Apis was on him before the laugh ceased; passed him; headed him — what do I say?— herded him off to the left, his horns beside and a little in front of his chest: he did not intend him to escape into a refuge. Some of the troupe would have closed in, but Villamarti cried: “If he wants him he will take him. Stand!” They stood. Whether the boy slipped or Apis nosed him over I could not see. But he dropped, sobbing. Apis halted like a car with four brakes, struck a pose, smelt him very completely and turned away. It was dismissal more ignominious than degradation at the head of one’s battalion. The representation was finished. Remained only for Apis to clear his stage of the subordinate characters.
‘Ah! His gesture then! He gave a dramatic start — this Cyrano of the Camargue — as though he was aware of them for the first time. He moved. All their beautiful breeches twinkled for an instant along the top of the barrier. He held the stage alone! But Christophe and I, we trembled! For, observe, he had now involved himself in a stupendous drama of which he only could supply the third act. And, except for an audience on the razor-edge of emotion, he had exhausted his material. Moliere himself — we have forgotten, my friend, to drink to the health of that great soul — might have been at a loss. And Tragedy is but a step behind Failure. We could see the four or five Civil Guards, who are sent always to keep order, fingering the breeches of their rifles. They were but waiting a word from the Mayor to fire on him, as they do sometimes at a bull who leaps the barrier among the spectators. They would, of course, have killed or wounded several people — but that would not have saved Apis.’
‘At that moment Fate — the Genius of France, if you will — sent to assist in the incomparable finale, none other than Chisto, the eldest, and I should have said (but never again will I judge!) the least inspired of all; mediocrity itself, but at heart — and it is the heart that conquers always, my friend — at heart an artist. He descended stiffly into the arena, alone and assured. Apis regarded him, his eyes in his eyes. The man took stance, with his cloak, and called to the bull as to an equal: “Now, Senor, we will show these honourable caballeros something together.” He advanced thus against this thinker who at a plunge — a kick — a thrust — could, we all knew, have extinguished him. My dear friend, I wish I could convey to you something of the unaffected bonhomie, the humour, the delicacy, the consideration bordering on respect even, with which Apis, the supreme artist, responded to this invitation. It was the Master, wearied after a strenuous hour in the atelier, unbuttoned and at ease with some not inexpert but limited disciple. The telepathy was instantaneous between them. And for good reason! Christophe said to me: “All’s well. That Chisto began among the bulls. I was sure of it when I heard him call just now. He has been a herdsman. He’ll pull it off.” There was a little feeling and adjustment, at first, for mutual distances and allowances.
Oh, yes! And here occurred a gross impertinence of Villamarti. He had, after an interval, followed Chisto — to retrieve his reputation. My Faith! I can conceive the elder Dumas slamming his door on an intruder precisely as Apis did. He raced Villamarti into the nearest refuge at once. He stamped his feet outside it, and he snorted: “Go! I am engaged with an artist.” Villamarti went — his reputation left behind for ever.
‘Apis returned to Chisto saying: “Forgive the interruption. I am not always master of my time, but you were about to observe, my dear confrere...?” Then the play began. Out of compliment to Chisto, Apis chose as his objective (every bull varies in this respect) the inner edge of the cloak — that nearest to the man’s body. This allows but a few millimetres clearance in charging. But Apis trusted himself as Chisto trusted him, and, this time, he conformed to the man, with inimitable judgment and temper. He allowed himself to be played into the shadow or the sun, as the delighted audience demanded. He raged enormously; he feigned defeat; he despaired in statuesque abandon, and thence flashed into fresh paroxysms of wrath — but always with the detachment of the true artist who knows he is but the vessel of an emotion whence others, not he, must drink. And never once did he forget that honest Chisto’s cloak was to him the gauge by which to spare even a hair on the skin. He inspired Chisto too. My God! His youth returned to that meritorious beef-sticker — the desire, the grace, and the beauty of his early dreams. One could almost see that girl of the past for whom he was rising, rising to these present heights of skill and daring. It was his hour too — a miraculous hour of dawn returned to gild the sunset. All he knew was at Apis’ disposition. Apis acknowledged it with all that he had learned at home, at Arles and in his lonely murders on our grazing-grounds. He flowed round Chisto like a river of death — round his knees, leaping at his shoulders, kicking just clear of one side or the other of his head; behind his back, hissing as he shaved by; and once or twice — inimitable!— he reared wholly up before him while Chisto slipped back from beneath the avalanche of that instructed body. Those two, my dear friend, held five thousand people dumb with no sound but of their breathings — regular as pumps. It was unbearable. Beast and man realised together that we needed a change of note — a detente. They relaxed to pure buffoonery. Chisto fell back and talked to him outrageously. Apis pretended he had never heard such language. The audience howled with delight. Chisto slapped him; he took liberties with his short tail, to the end of which he clung while Apis pirouetted; he played about him in all postures; he had become the herdsman again — gross, careless, brutal, but comprehending. Yet Apis was always the more consummate clown. All that time (Christophe and I saw it) Apis drew off towards the gates of the toril where so many bulls enter but — have you ever heard of one that returned? We knew that Apis knew that as he had saved Chisto, so Chisto would save him. Life is sweet to us all; to the artist who lives many lives in one, sweetest. Chisto did not fail him. At the last, when none could laugh any longer, the man threw his cape across the bull’s back, his arm round his neck. He flung up a hand at the gate, as Villamarti, young and commanding but not a herdsman, might have raised it, and he cried: “Gentlemen, open to me and my honourable little donkey.” They opened — I have misjudged Spaniards in my time!— those gates opened to the man and the bull together, and closed behind them. And then? From the Mayor to the Guardia Civil they went mad for five minutes, till the trumpets blew and the fifth bull rushed out — an unthinking black Andalusian. I suppose some one killed him. My friend, my very dear friend, to whom I have opened my heart, I confess that I did not watch. Christophe and I, we were weeping together like children of the same Mother. Shall we drink to Her?’
SEEING how many unstable ex-soldiers came to the Lodge of Instruction (attached to Faith and Works E.C. 5837) in the years after the war, the wonder is there was not more trouble from Brethren whom sudden meetings with old comrades jerked back into their still raw past. But our round, torpedo-bearded local Doctor–Brother Keede, Senior Warden — always stood ready to deal with hysteria before it got out of hand; and when I examined Brethren unknown or imperfectly vouched for on the Masonic side, I passed on to him anything that seemed doubtful. He had had his experience as medical officer of a South London Battalion, during the last two years of the war; and, naturally, often found friends and acquaintances among the visitors.
Brother C. Strangwick, a young, tallish, new-made Brother, hailed from some South London Lodge. His papers and his answers were above suspicion, but his red-rimmed eyes had a puzzled glare that might mean nerves. So I introduced him particularly to Keede, who discovered in him a Headquarters Orderly of his old Battalion, congratulated him on his return to fitness — he had been discharged for some infirmity or other — and plunged at once into Somme memories.
‘Of sorts — but not what he wanted me to think it was. No, he wasn’t shamming. He had jumps to the limit — but he played up to mislead me about the reason of ’em...Well, if we could stop patients from lying, medicine would be too easy, I suppose.’
I noticed that, after Lodge-working, Keede gave him a seat a couple of rows in front of us, that he might enjoy a lecture on the Orientation of King Solomon’s Temple, which an earnest Brother thought would be a nice interlude between Labour and the high tea that we called our ‘Banquet.’ Even helped by tobacco it was a dreary performance. About half-way through, Strangwick, who had been fidgeting and twitching for some minutes, rose, drove back his chair grinding across the tesselated floor, and yelped ‘Oh, My Aunt! I can’t stand this any longer.’ Under cover of a general laugh of assent he brushed past us and stumbled towards the door.
‘I thought so!’ Keede whispered to me. ‘Come along!’ We overtook him in the passage, crowing hysterically and wringing his hands. Keede led him into the Tyler’s Room, a small office where we stored odds and ends of regalia and furniture, and locked the door.
‘‘Course you are.’ Keede opened a small cupboard which I had seen called upon before, mixed sal volatile and water in a graduated glass, and, as Strangwick drank, pushed him gently on to an old sofa. ‘There,’ he went on. ‘It’s nothing to write home about. I’ve seen you ten times worse. I expect our talk has brought things back.’
‘Don’t!’ Strangwick squealed. ‘I can’t stand it! There’s nothing on earth creaks like they do! And — and when it thaws we — we’ve got to slap ’em back with a spa-ade! ‘Remember those Frenchmen’s little boots under the duckboards?...What’ll I do? What’ll I do about it?’
‘It was a bit by Sampoux, that we had taken over from the French. They’re tough, but you wouldn’t call ’em tidy as a nation. They had faced both sides of it with dead to keep the mud back. All those trenches were like gruel in a thaw. Our people had to do the same sort of thing — elsewhere; but Butcher’s Row in French End was the — er — show-piece. Luckily, we pinched a salient from Jerry just then, an’ straightened things out — so we didn’t need to use the Row after November. You remember, Strangwick?’
Keede opened his cupboard again and administered a carefully dropped dark dose of something that was not sal volatile. ‘This’ll settle you in a few minutes,’ he explained. ‘Lie still, an’ don’t talk unless you feel like it.’
‘Ye-es. Butcher’s Row wasn’t pretty,’ he volunteered. ‘Seeing Strangwick here, has brought it all back to me again. ‘Funny thing! We had a Platoon Sergeant of Number Two — what the deuce was his name?— an elderly bird who must have lied like a patriot to get out to the front at his age; but he was a first-class Non–Com., and the last person, you’d think, to make mistakes. Well, he was due for a fortnight’s home leave in January, ‘Eighteen. You were at B.H.Q. then, Strangwick, weren’t you?’
‘About then,’ Keede said. ‘Well, this Sergeant, instead of coming down from the trenches the regular way an’ joinin’ Battalion Details after dark, an’ takin’ that funny little train for Arras, thinks he’ll warm himself first. So he gets into a dug-out, in Butcher’s Row, that used to be an old French dressing-station, and fugs up between a couple of braziers of pure charcoal! As luck ‘ud have it, that was the only dug-out with an inside door opening inwards — some French anti-gas fitting, I expect — and, by what we could make out, the door must have swung to while he was warming. Anyhow, he didn’t turn up at the train. There was a search at once. We couldn’t afford to waste Platoon Sergeants. We found him in the morning. He’d got his gas all right. A machine-gunner reported him, didn’t he, Strangwick?’
‘Yes, that was it. I had to see him next mornin’— frozen stiff between the two braziers — and not a scrap of private papers on him. That was the only thing that made me think it mightn’t have been — quite an accident.’
‘I give my evidence — at the time — to you, sir. He passed — overtook me, I should say — comin’ down from supports, after I’d warned him for leaf. I thought he was goin’ through Parrot Trench as usual; but ‘e must ‘ave turned off into French End where the old bombed barricade was.’
‘Yes. I remember now. You were the last man to see him alive. That was on the twenty-first of January, you say? Now, when was it that Dearlove and Billings brought you to me — clean out of your head?’... Keede dropped his hand, in the style of magazine detectives, on Strangwick’s shoulder. The boy looked at him with cloudy wonder, and muttered: ‘I was took to you on the evenin’ of the twenty-fourth of January. But you don’t think I did him in, do you?’
‘Oh, no! You spun me a lot of stuff about corpses creaking; but you let yourself go in the middle of it — when you pushed that telegram at me. What did you mean, f’rinstance, by asking what advantage it was for you to fight beasts of officers if the dead didn’t rise?’
‘I’ll try,’ said the boy obediently, and began to paraphrase, as nearly as possible thus: ‘“Whatever a man may say in his heart unto the Lord, yea, verily I say unto you — Gawd hath shown man, again and again, marvellous mercy an’— an’ somethin’ or other love.”’ He screwed up his eyes and shook.
‘The one the telegram came to you about, at Sampoux, that you wanted me to explain — the one that you were talking of in the passage out here just now when you began: “O Auntie,” and changed it to “O Gawd,” when I collared you?’
‘That’s her! I haven’t a chance with you, Doctor. I didn’t know there was anything wrong with those braziers. How could I? We’re always usin’ ’em. Honest to God, I thought at first go-off he might wish to warm himself before the leaf-train. I— I didn’t know Uncle John meant to start ’ouse-keepin’.’ He laughed horribly, and then the dry tears came.
‘No,’ said Strangwick, his head between his hands. ‘Only we’d known him ever since we were born. Dad ‘ad known him before that. He lived almost next street to us. Him an’ Dad an’ Ma an’— an’ the rest had always been friends. So we called him Uncle — like children do.’
‘One o’ the best, sir. ‘Pensioned Sergeant with a little money left him — quite independent — and very superior. They had a sittin’-room full o’ Indian curios that him and his wife used to let sister an’ me see when we’d been good.’
‘That made no odds to him. He joined up as Sergeant Instructor at the first go-off, an’ when the Battalion was ready he got ‘imself sent along. He wangled me into ‘is Platoon when I went out — early in ‘Seventeen. Because Ma wanted it, I suppose.’
‘Oh, it made no odds to him. He ‘ad no pets in the Platoon, but ‘e’d write ‘ome to Ma about me an’ all the doin’s. You see’— Strangwick stirred uneasily on the sofa —‘we’d known him all our lives — lived in the next street an’ all...An’ him well over fifty. Oh dear me! Oh dear me! What a bloody mix-up things are, when one’s as young as me!’ he wailed of a sudden.
‘Yes. Ma’s eyes had gone bad followin’ on air-raids. ‘Blood-vessels broke behind ’em from sittin’ in cellars an’ bein’ sick. She had to ‘ave ‘er letters read to her by Auntie. Now I think of it, that was the only thing that you might have called anything at all —’
‘Yes–Auntie Armine–Ma’s younger sister, an’ she nearer fifty than forty. What a mix-up! An’ if I’d been asked any time about it, I’d ‘ave sworn there wasn’t a single sol’tary item concernin’ her that everybody didn’t know an’ hadn’t known all along. No more conceal to her doin’s than — than so much shop-front. She’d looked after sister an’ me, when needful — whoopin’ cough an’ measles just the same as Ma. We was in an’ out of her house like rabbits. You see, Uncle Armine is a cabinet-maker, an’ second-‘and furniture, an’ we liked playin’ with the things. She ‘ad no children, and when the war came, she said she was glad of it. But she never talked much of her feelin’s. She kept herself to herself, you understand.’ He stared most earnestly at us to help out our understandings.
‘A biggish woman, an’ had been ‘andsome, I believe, but, bein’ used to her, we two didn’t notice much — except, per’aps, for one thing. Ma called her ‘er proper name, which was Bella; but Sis an’ me always called ‘er Auntie Armine. See?’
‘Every time the post came in she’d slip across the road from opposite an’ read ’em. An’— an’ I’ll go bail for it that that was all there was to it for as far back as I remember. Was I to swing tomorrow, I’d go bail for that! ‘Tisn’t fair of ’em to ‘ave unloaded it all on me, because — because — if the dead do rise, why, what in ‘ell becomes of me an’ all I’ve believed all me life? I want to know that! I— I—’
‘There was nothin’ to give away — we was too busy — but his letters about me were a great comfort to Ma. I’m no good at writin’. I saved it all up for my leafs. I got me fourteen days every six months an’ one over...I was luckier than most, that way.’
‘I expect I must have; but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was took up with me own affairs — naturally. Uncle John always wrote to me once each leaf, tellin’ me what was doin’ an’ what I was li’ble to expect on return, an’ Ma ‘ud ‘ave that read to her. Then o’ course I had to slip over to his wife an’ pass her the news. An’ then there was the young lady that I’d thought of marryin’ if I came through. We’d got as far as pricin’ things in the windows together.’
Another tremor shook the boy. ‘No!’ he cried. ‘‘Fore it ended, I knew what reel things reelly mean! I— I never dreamed such things could be!...An’ she nearer fifty than forty an’ me own Aunt!...But there wasn’t a sign nor a hint from first to last, so ‘ow could I tell? Don’t you see it? All she said to me after me Christmas leaf in’ ‘18, when I come to say good-bye — all Auntie Armine said to me was: “You’ll be seein’ Mister Godsoe soon?” “Too soon for my likings,” I says.” Well then, tell ’im from me,” she says, “that I expect to be through with my little trouble by the twenty-first of next month, an’ I’m dyin’ to see him as soon as possible after that date.”’
Strangwick repeated: ‘“Tell Uncle John I hope to be finished of my drawback by the twenty-first, an’ I’m dying to see ’im as soon as ‘e can after that date.” An’ then she says, laughin’: “But you’ve a head like a sieve. I’ll write it down, an’ you can give it him when you see ’im.” So she wrote it on a bit o’ paper an’ I kissed ‘er good-bye — I was always her favourite, you see — an’ I went back to Sampoux. The thing hardly stayed in my mind at all, d’you see. But the next time I was up in the front line — I was a Runner, d’ye see — our platoon was in North Bay Trench an’ I was up with a message to the Trench Mortar there that Corporal Grant was in charge of. Followin’ on receipt of it, he borrowed a couple of men off the platoon, to slue ‘er round or somethin’. I give Uncle John Auntie Armine’s paper, an’ I give Grant a fag, an’ we warmed up a bit over a brazier. Then Grant says to me: “I don’t like it”; an’ he jerks ‘is thumb at Uncle John in the bay studyin’ Auntie’s message. Well, you know, sir, you had to speak to Grant about ‘is way of prophesyin’ things — after Rankine shot himself with the Very light.’
‘Grant whispers to me: “Look, you damned Englishman. ‘E’s for it.” Uncle John was leanin’ up against the bay, an’ hummin’ that hymn I was tryin’ to tell you just now. He looked different all of a sudden — as if ‘e’d got shaved. I don’t know anything of these things, but I cautioned Grant as to his style of speakin’, if an officer ‘ad ‘eard him, an’ I went on. Passin’ Uncle John in the bay, ‘e nods an’ smiles, which he didn’t often, an’ he says, pocketin’ the paper “This suits me. I’m for leaf on the twenty-first, too.”’
‘Precisely the same as passin’ the time o’ day. O’ course I returned the agreeable about hopin’ he’d get it, an’ in due course I returned to ‘Eadquarters. The thing ‘ardly stayed in my mind a minute. That was the eleventh January — three days after I’d come back from leaf. You remember, sir, there wasn’t anythin’ doin’ either side round Sampoux the first part o’ the month. Jerry was gettin’ ready for his March Push, an’ as long as he kept quiet, we didn’t want to poke ’im up.’
‘I must have met him, on an’ off, I expect, goin’ up an’ down, through the ensuin’ days, but it didn’t stay in me mind. Why needed it? And on the twenty-first Jan., his name was on the leaf-paper when I went up to warn the leaf-men. I noticed that, o’ course. Now that very afternoon Jerry ‘ad been tryin’ a new trench-mortar, an’ before our ‘Eavies could out it, he’d got a stinker into a bay an’ mopped up ‘alf a dozen. They were bringin’ ’em down when I went up to the supports, an’ that blocked Little Parrot, same as it always did. You remember, sir?’
‘I remembered that too. But it was just on dark an’ the fog was comin’ off the Canal, so I hopped out of Little Parrot an’ cut across the open to where those four dead Warwicks are heaped up. But the fog turned me round, an’ the next thing I knew I was knee-over in that old ‘alf-trench that runs west o’ Little Parrot into French End. I dropped into it — almost atop o’ the machine-gun platform by the side o’ the old sugar boiler an’ the two Zoo-ave skel’tons. That gave me my bearin’s, an’ so I went through French End, all up those missin’ Buckboards, into Butcher’s Row where the poy-looz was laid in six deep each side, an’ stuffed under the Buckboards. It had froze tight, an’ the drippin’s had stopped, an’ the creakin’s had begun.’
‘No,’ said the boy with professional scorn. ‘If a Runner starts noticin’ such things he’d better chuck. In the middle of the Row, just before the old dressin’-station you referred to, sir, it come over me that somethin’ ahead on the Buckboards was just like Auntie Armine, waitin’ beside the door; an’ I thought to meself ‘ow truly comic it would be if she could be dumped where I was then. In ‘alf a second I saw it was only the dark an’ some rags o’ gas-screen, ‘angin’ on a bit of board, ‘ad played me the trick. So I went on up to the supports an’ warned the leaf-men there, includin’ Uncle John. Then I went up Rake Alley to warn ’em in the front line. I didn’t hurry because I didn’t want to get there till Jerry ‘ad quieted down a bit. Well, then a Company Relief dropped inan’ the officer got the wind up over some lights on the flank, an’ tied ’em into knots, an’ I ‘ad to hunt up me leaf-men all over the blinkin’ shop. What with one thing an’ another, it must ‘ave been ‘alf-past eight before I got back to the supports. There I run across Uncle John, scrapm’ mud off himself, havin’ shaved — quite the dandy. He asked about the Arras train, an’ I said, if Jerry was quiet, it might be ten o’clock. “Good!” says ‘e. “I’ll come with you.” So we started back down the old trench that used to run across Halnaker, back of the support dug-outs. You know, sir.’
‘Then Uncle John says something to me about seein’ Ma an’ the rest of ’em in a few days, an’ had I any messages for ’em? Gawd knows what made me do it, but I told ’im to tell Auntie Armine I never expected to see anything like her up in our part of the world. And while I told him I laughed. That’s the last time I ‘ave laughed.” Oh — you’ve seen ‘er, ‘ave you? says he, quite natural-like. Then I told ’im about the sand-bags an’ rags in the dark, playin’ the trick. “Very likely,” says he, brushin’ the mud off his putties. By this time, we’d got to the corner where the old barricade into French End was — before they bombed it down, sir. He turns right an’ climbs across it. “No, thanks,” says I. “I’ve been there once this evenin’.” But he wasn’t attendin’ to me. He felt behind the rubbish an’ bones just inside the barricade, an’ when he straightened up, he had a full brazier in each hand.
‘“Come on, Clem,” he says, an’ he very rarely give me me own name. “You aren’t afraid, are you?” he says. “It’s just as short, an’ if Jerry starts up again he won’t waste stuff here. He knows it’s abandoned.” “Who’s afraid now?” I says. “Me for one,” says he. “I don’t want my leaf spoiled at the last minute.” Then ‘e wheels round an’ speaks that bit you said come out o’ the Burial Service.’
‘Oh! Beg y’ pardon! He went on with his braziers, hummin’ his hymn, down Butcher’s Row. Just before we got to the old dressin’station he stops and sets ’em down an’ says “Where did you say she was, Clem? Me eyes ain’t as good as they used to be.”
‘“Well, I am,” ‘e says. “I am...” An’ then —‘give you me word I didn’t recognise the voice — he stretches out ‘is neck a bit, in a way ‘e ‘ad, an’ he says: “Why, Bella!” ‘e says. “Oh, Bella!” ‘e says. “Thank Gawd!” ‘e says. Just like that! An’ then I saw — I tell you I saw — Auntie Armine herself standin’ by the old dressin’station door where first I’d thought I’d seen her. He was lookin’ at ‘er an’ she was lookin’ at him. I saw it, an’ me soul turned over inside me because — because it knocked out everything I’d believed in. I ‘ad nothin’ to lay ‘old of, d’ye see? An’ ‘e was lookin’ at ‘er as though he could ‘ave et ‘er, an’ she was lookin’ at ’im the same way, out of ‘er eyes. Then he says: “Why, Bella,” ‘e says, “this must be only the second time we’ve been alone together in all these years.” An’ I saw ‘er half hold out her arms to ’im in that perishin’ cold. An’ she nearer fifty than forty an’ me own Aunt! You can shop me for a lunatic tomorrow, but I saw it — I saw ‘er answerin’ to his spoken word... Then ‘e made a snatch to unsling ‘is rifle. Then ‘e cuts ‘is hand away saying: “No! Don’t tempt me, Bella. We’ve all Eternity ahead of us. An hour or two won’t make any odds.” Then he picks up the braziers an’ goes on to the dug-out door. He’d finished with me. He pours petrol on ’em, an’ lights it with a match, an’ carries ’em inside, flarin’. All that time Auntie Armine stood with ‘er arms out — an’ a look in ‘er face! I didn’t know such things was or could be! Then he comes out an’ says: “Come in, my dear”; an’ she stoops an’ goes into the dug-out with that look on her face — that look on her face! An’ then ‘e shuts the door from inside an’ starts wedgin’ it up. So ‘elp me Gawd, I saw an’ ‘eard all these things with my own eyes an’ ears!’
‘It was a bit of a mix-up, for me, from then on. I must have carried on — they told me I did, but — but I was — I felt a — a long way inside of meself, like — if you’ve ever had that feelin’. I wasn’t rightly on the spot at all. They woke me up sometime next morning, because ‘e ‘adn’t showed up at the train; an’ some one had seen him with me. I wasn’t ‘alf cross-examined by all an’ sundry till dinner-time.
‘Then, I think, I volunteered for Dearlove, who ‘ad a sore toe, for a front-line message. I had to keep movin’, you see, because I hadn’t anything to hold on to. Whilst up there, Grant informed me how he’d found Uncle John with the door wedged an’ sand-bags stuffed in the cracks. I hadn’t waited for that. The knockin’ when ‘e wedged up was enough for me. ‘Like Dad’s coffin.’
‘Because he’d noticed Uncle John had been pinchin’ charcoal for a week past an’ layin’ it up behind the old barricade there. So when the ‘unt began, he went that way straight as a string, an’ when he saw the door shut, he knew. He told me he picked the sand-bags out of the cracks an’ shoved ‘is hand through and shifted the wedges before any one come along. It looked all right. You said yourself, sir, the door must ‘ave blown to.’
‘On the mornin’ of the twenty-first. The mornin’ of the 21st! That tore it, d’ye see? As long as I could think, I had kep’ tellin’ myself it was like those things you lectured about at Arras when we was billeted in the cellars — the Angels of Mons, and so on. But that wire tore it.’
‘Yes! You see’— he half lifted himself off the sofa —‘there wasn’t a single gor-dam thing left abidin’ for me to take hold of, here or hereafter. If the dead do rise — and I saw ’em — why — why, anything can ‘appen. Don’t you understand?’
‘For I saw ‘er,’ he repeated. ‘I saw ’im an’ ‘er — she dead since mornin’ time, an’ he killin’ ‘imself before my livin’ eyes so’s to carry on with ‘er for all Eternity — an’ she ‘oldin’ out ‘er arms for it! I want to know where I’m at! Look ’ere, you two — why stand we in jeopardy every hour?’
‘And I’m damned if it’s goin’ to be even once for me!’ he went on with sudden insane fury. ‘I don’t care whether we ‘ave been pricin’ things in the windows...Let ‘er sue if she likes! She don’t know what reel things mean. I do — I’ve ‘ad occasion to notice ’em...No, I tell you! I’ll ‘ave ’em when I want ’em, an’ be done with ’em; but not till I see that look on a face...that look...I’m not takin’ any. The reel thing’s life an’ death. It begins at death, d’ye see. She can’t understand...Oh, go on an’ push off to Hell, you an’ your lawyers. I’m fed up with it — fed up!’
He stopped as abruptly as he had started, and the drawn face broke back to its natural irresolute lines. Keede, holding both his hands, led him back to the sofa, where he dropped like a wet towel, took out some flamboyant robe from a press, and drew it neatly over him.
‘‘Tisn’t that — he’s provided for — but ‘— he coughed confidentially behind his dry hand —‘as a matter of fact, Worshipful Sir, he’s — he’s implicated for the present in a little breach of promise action.’
‘Yes. That’s his reel trouble. No reason given, you understand. The young lady in every way suitable, an’ she’d make him a good little wife too, if I’m any judge. But he says she ain’t his ideel or something. ‘No getting at what’s in young people’s minds these days, is there?’
‘I’m afraid there isn’t,’ said Keede. ‘But he’s all right now. He’ll sleep. You sit by him, and when he wakes, take him home quietly...Oh, we’re used to men getting a little upset here. You’ve nothing to thank us for, Brother–Brother —’
PRINCESS. For all — all — all — Since the realm sunk beneath us! Hear him! For what?’
Your body ‘twixt my bosom and her knife.
Your lips on the cup she proffered for my death;
Your one cloak over me, that night in the snows
We held the Pass at Bargi. Every hour
New strengths, to this most unbelievable last.
‘Honour him?’ I will honour — will honour you —...
’Tis at your choice.
GOW (to the Spirit). What can the Grave against us, O my Heart.
Comfort and light and reason in all things
Visible and invisible — my one God?
Thou that wast I these barren unyoked years
Of triflings now at end! Frances!
FERDINAND. Because she was his life. Forgive, my friend —(covers Gow’s face)
God’s uttermost beyond me in all faith.
Service and passion — if I unveil at last
The secret. (To the Princess) Thought-dreamed you, it was for you
He poured himself — for you resoldered the Crown?
Struck here, held there, amended, broke, built up
His multiplied imaginings for you?
PRINCESS. I thought — I thought he —
FERDINAND. Looked beyond. Her wish
Was the sole Law he knew. She did not choose
Your House should perish. Therefore he bade it stand.
Enough for him when she had breathed a word
’Twas his to make it iron, stone, or fire.
Driving our flesh and blood before his ways
As the wind straws. Her one face unregarded
Waiting you with your mantle or your glove —
That is the God whom he is gone to worship.
(Trumpets without. Enter the Prince’s Heralds.)
And here’s the work of Kingship begun again.
These from the Prince of Bargi — to whose sword
You owe such help as may, he thinks, be paid...
He’s equal in blood, in fortune more than peer.
Young, most well favoured, with a heart to love —
And two States in the balance. Do you meet him?
THE Army Class ‘English,’ which included the Upper Fifth, was trying to keep awake; for ‘English’ (Literature–Augustan epoch — eighteenth century came at last lesson, and that, on a blazing July afternoon; meant after every one had been bathing. Even Mr. King found it hard to fight against the snore of the tide along the Pebble Ridge, and spurred himself with strong words.
Since, said he, the pearls of English Literature existed only to be wrenched from their settings and cast before young swine rooting for marks, it was his loathed business — in anticipation of the Army Preliminary Examination which, as usual, would be held at the term’s end, under the auspices of an official examiner sent down ad hoc — to prepare for the Form a General Knowledge test-paper, which he would give them next week. It would cover their studies, up to date, of the Augustans and King Lear, which was the selected — and strictly expurgated — Army Exam, play for that year. Now, English Literature, as he might have told them, was not divided into water-tight compartments, but flowed like a river. For example, Samuel Johnson, glory of the Augustans and no mean commentator of Shakespeare, was but one in a mighty procession which —
At this point Beetle’s nodding brows came down with a grunt on the desk. He had been soaking and sunning himself in the open sea-baths built out on the rocks under the cliffs, from two-fifteen to four-forty.
The Army Class took Johnson off their minds. With any luck, Beetle would last King till the tea-bell. King rubbed his hands and began to carve him. He had gone to sleep to show his contempt (a) for Mr. King, who might or might not matter, and (b) for the Augustans, who none the less were not to be sneered at by one whose vast and omnivorous reading, for which such extraordinary facilities had been granted (this was because the Head had allowed Beetle the run of his library), naturally overlooked such epigonoi as Johnson, Swift, Pope, Addison, and the like. Harrison Ainsworth and Marryat doubtless appealed —
Even so, Beetle salt-encrusted all over except his spectacles, and steeped in delicious languors, was sliding back to sleep again, when ‘Taffy’ Howell, the leading light of the Form, who knew his Marryat as well as Stalky did his Surtees, began in his patent, noiseless whisper: ‘“Allow me to observe — in the most delicate manner in the world — just to hint —”’
The shout of the Army Class diverted the storm. King was grimly glad that Beetle had condescended to honour truth so far. Perhaps he would now lend his awakened ear to a summary of the externals of Dr. Johnson, as limned by Macaulay. And he read, with intention, the just historian’s outline of a grotesque figure with untied shoe-strings, that twitched and grunted, gorged its food, bit its finger-nails, and neglected its ablutions. The Form hailed it as a speaking likeness of Beetle; nor were they corrected.
Then King implored him to vouchsafe his comrades one single fact connected with Dr. Johnson which might at any time have adhered to what, for decency’s sake, must, Mr. King supposed, be called his mind.
Result, as the tea-bell rang, one hundred lines, to be shown up at seven-forty-five that evening. This was meant to blast the pleasant summer interval between tea and prep. Howell, a favourite in ‘English’ as well as Latin, got off; but the Army Class crashed in to tea with a new Limerick.
The imposition was a matter of book-keeping, as far as Beetle was concerned; for it was his custom of rainy afternoons to fabricate store of lines in anticipation of just these accidents. They covered such English verse as interested him at the moment, and helped to fix the stuff in his memory. After tea; he drew the required amount from his drawer in Number Five Study, thrust it into his pocket, went up to the Head’s house, and settled himself in the big Outer Library where, ever since the Head had taken him off all mathematics, he did precis-work and French translation. Here he buried himself in a close — printed, thickish volume which had been his chosen browse for some time. A hideous account of a hanging, drawing, and quartering had first attracted him to it; but later he discovered the book (Curiosities of Literature was its name) full of the finest confused feeding — such as forgeries and hoaxes, Italian literary societies, religious and scholastic controversies of old when men (even that most dreary John Milton, of Lycidas) slanged each other, not without dust and heat, in scandalous pamphlets; personal peculiarities of the great; and a hundred other fascinating inutilities. This evening he fell on a description of wandering, mad Elizabethan beggars, known as Tom-a-Bedlams, with incidental references to Edgar who plays at being a Tom-a-Bedlam in Lear, but whom Beetle did not consider at all funny. Then, at the foot of a left-hand page, leaped out on him a verse — of incommunicable splendour, opening doors into inexplicable worlds — from a song which Tom-a-Bedlams were supposed to sing. It ran:
With a heart of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander.
With a burning spear and a horse of air.
To the wilderness I wander.
With a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney.
Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end —
Methmks it is no journey.
He sat, mouthing and staring before him, till the prep-bell rang and it was time to take his lines up to King’s study and lay them, as hot from the press, in the impot-basket appointed. He carried his dreams on to Number Five. They knew the symptoms of old.
‘No, you don’t — till afterwards. It’s Turkey’s prep.’ This meant it was a Horace Ode through which Turkey would take them for a literal translation, and all possible pitfalls. Stalky gave his businesslike attention, but Beetle’s eye was glazed and his mind adrift throughout, and he asked for things to be repeated. So, when Turkey closed the Horace, justice began to be executed.
‘I’m all right,’ he protested. ‘I swear I heard a lot what Turkey said. Shut up! Oh, shut up! Do shut up, you putrid asses.’ Beetle was speaking from the fender, his head between Turkey’s knees, and Stalky largely over the rest of him.
‘‘Cause you didn’t listen. They had drinkin’-horns an’ badges, and there’s a Johnson note on Shakespeare about the meanin’ of Edgar sayin’ “My horn’s dry.” But Johnson’s dead-wrong about it. Aubrey says —’
‘Shut up, Beetle!’ Stalky pronounced. ‘There’s more than draws in this. You’ve cribbed your maths off me ever since you came to Coll. You don’t know what a co-sine is, even now. Turkey does all your Latin.’
‘French don’t count. It’s time you began to work for your giddy livin’ an’ help us. You aren’t goin’ up for anythin’ that matters. Play for your side, as Heffles says, or die the death! You don’t want to die the death, again, do you? Now, let’s hear about that stinkard Johnson swottin’ Dutch. You’re sure it was Sammivel, not Binjamin? You are so dam’ inaccurate!’
The Horace Ode next morning ran well; and King was content. Then, in full feather, he sailed round the firmament at large, and, somehow, apropos to something or other, used the word ‘della Cruscan’—‘if any of you have the faintest idea of its origin.’ Some one hadn’t caught it correctly; which gave Beetle just time to whisper ‘Bran-an’ mills’ to Howell, who said, promptly: ‘Hasn’t it somethin’ to do with mills-an’ bran, sir?’ King cast himself into poses of stricken wonder. ‘Oddly enough,’ said he, ‘it has.’
They were then told a great deal about some silly Italian Academy of Letters which borrowed its office furniture from the equipment of mediaeval flour-mills. And: ‘How has our Ap–Howell come by his knowledge?’ Howell, being, indeed, Welsh, thought that it might have been something he had read in the holidays. King openly purred over him.
‘My-y Lord! Have you ever seen the guv’nor?’ Stalky collapsed shrieking among the piles of bread and butter. ‘Well, look here. Taffy goes in tomorrow about those drinkin’ horns an’ Tom-a-Bedlams. You cut up to the library after tea, Beetle. You know what King’s English papers are like. Look out useful stuff for answers an’ we’ll divvy at prep.’
At prep, then, Beetle, loaded with assorted curiosities, made his forecast. He argued that there were bound to be a good many ‘what-do-you-know-abouts’ those infernal Augustans. Pope was generally a separate item; but the odds were that Swift, Addison, Steele, Johnson, and Goldsmith would be lumped under one head. Dryden was possible, too, though rather outside the Epoch.
‘No, you ass! Captain of Engineers. He told me he was up for a Staff exam. to an old Colonel-bird who believed that the English were the lost Tribes of Israel, or something like that. He’d written tons o’ books about it.’
Some days later a happy, and therefore not too likeable, King was explaining to the Reverend John in his own study how effort, zeal, scholarship, the humanities, and perhaps a little natural genius for teaching, could inspire even the mark-hunting minds of the young. His text was the result of his General Knowledge paper on the Augustans and King Lear.
‘Yes. He had somehow arrived at a rather just estimate of Swift’s lighter literary diversions. They are contemptible. And in the “Lear” questions — they were all attracted by Edgar’s character — Stalky had dug up something about Aubrey on Tom-a-Bedlams from some unknown source. Aubrey, of all people! I’m sure I only alluded to him once or twice.’
‘It rests between two, I fancy. Martlett — with me at Balliol — and Hume. They wisely chose the Civil Service. Martlett has published a brochure on Minor Elizabethan Verse — journeyman work, of course — enthusiasms, but no grounding. Hume I heard of lately as having infected himself in Germany with some Transatlantic abominations about Shakespeare and Bacon. He was Sutton.’ (The Head, by the way, was a Sutton man.)
It was the Reverend John who stopped himself, just in time, from breaking forth. He recalled that, some days ago, he had heard Stalky on the stairs of Number Five, hurling the boots of many fags at Howell’s door and bidding the ‘impassioned Diderot’ within ‘break forth’ at his peril.
‘The necessary dates and his handwriting defeated him, I’m glad to say. I cannot accuse myself of having missed any opportunity to castigate that boy’s inordinate and intolerable conceit. But I’m afraid it’s hopeless. I think I touched him somewhat, though, when I read Macaulay’s stock piece on Johnson. The others saw it at once.’
‘And our esteemed Head having taken him off maths for this precis-writing — whatever that means!— has turned him into a most objectionable free-lance. He was without any sense of reverence before, and promiscuous cheap fiction — which is all that his type of reading means — aggravates his worst points. When it came to a trial he was simply nowhere.’
‘Ah, well! Ours is a hard calling — specially if one’s sensitive. Luckily, I’m too fat.’ The Reverend John went out to bathe off the Pebble Ridge, girt with a fair linen towel whose red fringe signalled from half a mile away.
There lurked on summer afternoons, round the fives-court or the gym, certain watchful outcasts who had exhausted their weekly ration of three baths, and who were too well known to Cory the bathman to outface him by swearing that they hadn’t. These came in like sycophantic pups at walk, and when the Reverend John climbed the Pebble Ridge, more than a dozen of them were at his heels, with never a towel among them. One could only bathe off the Ridge with a House Master, but by custom, a dozen details above a certain age, no matter whence recruited, made a ‘House’ for bathing, if any kindly Master chose so to regard them. Beetle led the low, growing reminder: ‘House! House, sir? We’ve got a House now, Padre.’
‘Let it be law as it is desired,’ boomed the Reverend John. On which word they broke forward, hirpling over the unstable pebbles and stripping as they ran, till, when they touched the sands, they were as naked as God had made them, and as happy as He intended them to be.
It was half-flood-dead-smooth, except for the triple line of combers, a mile from wing to wing, that broke evenly with a sound of ripping canvas, while their sleek rear-guards formed up behind. One swam forth, trying to copy the roll, rise, and dig-out of the Reverend John’s sidestroke, and manoeuvred to meet them so that they should crash on one’s head, when for an instant one glanced down arched perspectives of beryl, before all broke in fizzy, electric diamonds, and the pulse of the main surge slung one towards the beach. From a good comber’s crest one was hove up almost to see Lundy on the horizon. In its long cream-streaked trough, when the top had turned over and gone on, one might be alone in mid-Atlantic. Either way it was divine. Then one capered on the sands till one dried off; retrieved scattered flannels, gave thanks in chorus to the Reverend John, and lazily trailed up to five-o’clock call-over, taken on the lower cricket field.
Beetle went up to College and to the Outer Library, where he had on tap the last of a book called Elsie Venner, by a man called Oliver Wendell Holmes — all about a girl who was interestingly allied to rattlesnakes. He finished what was left of her, and cast about for more from the same hand, which he found on the same shelf, with the trifling difference that the writer’s Christian name was now Nathaniel, and he did not deal in snakes. The authorship of Shakespeare was his theme — not that Shakespeare with whom King oppressed the Army Class, but a low-born, poaching, ignorant, immoral village lout who could not have written one line of any play ascribed to him. (Beetle wondered what King would say to Nathaniel if ever they met.) The real author was Francis Bacon, of Bacon’s Essays, which did not strike Beetle as any improvement. He had ‘done’ the essays last term. But evidently Nathaniel’s views annoyed people, for the margins of his book — it was second-hand, and the old label of a public library still adhered — flamed with ribald, abusive, and contemptuous comments by various hands. They ranged from ‘Rot!’ ‘Rubbish!’ and such-like to crisp counter-arguments. And several times some one had written: ‘This beats Delia.’ One copious annotator dissented, saying: ‘Delia is supreme in this line,’ ‘Delia beats this hollow.’ ‘See Delia’s Philosophy, page so and so.’ Beetle grieved he could not find anything about Delia (he had often heard King’s views on lady-writers as a class) beyond a statement by Nathaniel, with pencilled exclamation-points rocketing all round it, that ‘Delia Bacon discovered in Francis Bacon a good deal more than Macaulay.’ Taking it by and large, with the kind help of the marginal notes, it appeared that Delia and Nathaniel between them had perpetrated every conceivable outrage against the Head–God of King’s idolatry: and King was particular about his idols. Without pronouncing on the merits of the controversy, it occurred to Beetle that a well-mixed dose of Nathaniel ought to work on King like a seidlitz powder. At this point a pencil and a half sheet of impot-paper came into action, and he went down to tea so swelled with Baconian heresies and blasphemies that he could only stutter between mouthfuls. He returned to his labours after the meal, and was visibly worse at prep.
‘‘Fat lot of good to us!’ said Stalky. ‘We’ve got to swot ’em up just the same. Look here! This is for English parsin’ tomorrow. It’s your biznai.’ He read swiftly from the school Lear (Act II. Sc. 2) thus
STEWARD: ‘Never any:
It pleased the King his master, very late.
To strike at me, upon his misconstruction;
When he, conjunct, an’ flatterin’ his displeasure.
Tripped me behind: bein’ down, insulted, railed.
And put upon him such a deal of man.
That worthy’d him, got praises of the King
For him attemptin’ who was self-subdued;
And, in the fleshment of this dread exploit.
Drew on me here again.
‘I’d do it,’ Beetle protested, ‘only he’d slay me! He don’t love me when I ask about things. I can give you the stuff to draw him — tons of it!’ He broke forth into a precis, interspersed with praises, of Nathaniel Holmes and his commentators — especially the latter. He also mentioned Delia, with sorrow that he had not read her. He spoke through nearly the whole of prep; and the upshot of it was that McTurk relented and promised to approach King next ‘English’ on the authenticity of Shakespeare’s plays.
The time and tone chosen were admirable. While King was warming himself by a preliminary canter round the Form’s literary deficiencies, Turkey coughed in a style which suggested a reminder to a slack employee that it was time to stop chattering and get to work. As King began to bristle, Turkey inquired: ‘I’d be glad to know, sir, if it’s true that Shakespeare did not write his own plays at all?’
‘Ireland–Ireland — Ireland!’ King overran Ireland with one blast of flame that should have been written in letters of brass for instruction today. At the end, Turkey coughed once more, and the cough said: ‘It is Shakespeare, and not my country, that you are hired to interpret to me.’ He put it directly, too: ‘An’ is it true at all about the alleged plays, sir?’
‘It is not,’ Mr. King whispered, and began to explain, on lines that might, perhaps, have been too freely expressed for the parents of those young (though it gave their offspring delight), but with a passion, force, and wealth of imagery which would have crowned his discourse at any university. By the time he drew towards his peroration the Form was almost openly applauding. Howell noiselessly drummed the cadence of ‘Bonnie Dundee’ on his desk; Paddy Vernon framed a dumb: ‘Played! Oh, well played, sir!’ at intervals; Stalky kept tally of the brighter gems of invective; and Beetle sat aghast but exulting among the spirits he had called up. For though their works had never been mentioned, and though Mr. King said he had merely glanced at the obscene publications, he seemed to know a tremendous amount about Nathaniel and Delia — especially Delia.
‘Had I been that triple ass Hume, I might have risen to the bait. As it is, I flatter myself I left them under no delusions as to Shakespeare’s authenticity. Yes, a small drink, please. Virtue has gone out of me indeed. But where did they get it from?’
‘I could have excused devilry. It was ignorance. Sheer, crass, insolent provincial ignorance! I tell you, Gillett, if the Romans had dealt faithfully with the Celt, ab initio, this — this would never have happened.’
Since he had loosed the whirlwind, the fairminded Beetle offered to do Turkey’s essay for him. On Turkey’s behalf, then, he dealt with Shakespeare’s lack of education, his butchering, poaching, drinking, horse-holding, and errandrunning as Nathaniel had described them; lifted from the same source pleasant names, such as ‘rustic’ and ‘sorry poetaster,’ on which last special hopes were built; and expressed surprise that one so ignorant could have done ‘what he was attributed to.’ His own essay contained no novelties. Indeed, he withheld one or two promising ‘subsequently transpireds’ for fear of distracting King.
But, when the essays were read, Mr. King confined himself wholly to Turkey’s pitiful, puerile, jejune, exploded, unbaked, half-bottomed thesis. He touched, too, on the ‘lie in the soul,’ which was, fundamentally, vulgarity — the negation of Reverence and the Decencies. He broke forth into an impassioned defence of ‘mere atheism,’ which he said was often no more than mental flatulence — transitory and curable by knowledge of life — in no way comparable, for essential enormity, with the debasing pagan abominations to which Turkey had delivered himself. He ended with a shocking story about one Jowett, who seemed to have held some post of authority where King came from, and who had told an atheistical undergraduate that if he could not believe in a Personal God by five that afternoon he would be expelled — as, with tears of rage in his eyes, King regretted that he could not expel McTurk. And Turkey blew his nose in the middle of it.
But the aim of education being to develop individual judgment, King could not well kill him for his honest doubts about Shakespeare. And he himself had several times quoted, in respect to other poets: ‘There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.’ So he treated Turkey in Form like a coiled puff-adder; and there was a tense peace among the Augustans. The only ripple was the day before the Army Examiner came, when Beetle inquired if he ‘need take this exam., sir, as I’m not goin’ up for anything.’ Mr. King said there was great need — for many reasons, none of them flattering to vanity.
As far as the Army Class could judge, the Examiner was not worse than his breed, and the written ‘English’ paper ran closely on the lines of King’s mid-term General Knowledge test. Howell played his ‘impassioned Diderot’ to the Richardson lead; Stalky his parson in the wig; McTurk his contemptible Swift; Beetle, Steele’s affectionate notes out of the spunginghouse to ‘Dearest Prue,’ all in due order. There were, however, one or two leading questions about Shakespeare. A boy’s hand shot up from a back bench.
‘To make sure,’ Stalky amplified. ‘If he was like King, he’d have shut up Beetle an’ Turkey at the start, but he’d have thought King gave us the Bacon notion. Well, he didn’t shut ’em up; so they’re playin’ it again this afternoon. If he stands it then, he’ll be sure King gave us the notion. Either way, it’s dead-safe for us, an’ King.’
At the afternoon’s viva voce, before they sat down to the Augustans, the Examiner wished to hear, ‘with no bearing on the examination, of course,’ from those two candidates who had asked him about Question Seven. Which were they?
‘Take off your gigs, you owl,’ said Stalky between his teeth. Beetle pocketed them and looked into blurred vacancy with a voice coming out of it that asked: ‘Who — what gave you that idea about Shakespeare?’ From Stalky’s kick he knew the question was for him.
For decency’s sake a few Augustan questions were crammed in conscience-strickenly, about the last ten minutes. Howell took them since they involved dates, but the answers, though highly marked, were scarcely heeded. When the clock showed six-thirty the Examiner addressed them as ‘Gentlemen’; and said he would have particular pleasure in speaking well of this Army Class, which had evinced such a genuine and unusual interest in English Literature, and which reflected the greatest credit on their instructors. He passed out: the Form upstanding, as custom was.
Mr. King of Balliol, after Mr. Hume of Sutton had complimented him, as was only just, before all his colleagues in Common Room, was kindly taken by the Reverend John to his study, where he exploded on the hearth-rug.
‘He — he thought I had loosed this — this rancid Baconian rot among them. He complimented me on my breadth of mind — my being abreast of the times! You heard him? That’s how they think at Sutton. It’s an open stye! A lair of bestial! They have a chapel there, Gillett, and they pray for their souls — their souls!’
‘His particular weakness apart, Hume was perfectly sincere about what you’d done for the Army Class. He’ll report in that sense, too. That’s a feather in your cap, and a deserved one. He said their interest in Literature was unusual. That is all your work, King.’
‘But I bowed down in the House of Rimmon while he Baconised all over me!— poor devil of an usher that I am! You heard it! I ought to have spat in his eye! Heaven knows I’m as conscious of my own infirmities as my worst enemy can be; but what have I done to deserve this? What have I done?’
‘Assuredly not! My Army Class? I couldn’t wish for a better — keen, interested enough to read outside their allotted task — intelligent, receptive! They’re head and shoulders above last year’s. The idea that I, forsooth, should, even by inference, have perverted their minds with this imbecile and unspeakable girls’— school tripe that Hume professes! You at least know that I have my standards; and in Literature and in the Classics, I hold maxima debetur pueris reverentia.’
THERE had been rather a long sitting at Lodge ‘Faith and Works,’ 5837 E.C., that warm April night. Three initiations and two raisings, each conducted with the spaciousness and particularity that our Lodge prides itself upon, made the Brethren a little silent, and the strains of certain music had not yet lifted from them.
I turned to look. It was a sponsor for one of our newly raised Brethren — a fat man with a fish-like and vacant face, but evidently prosperous. We introduced ourselves as we took our places. His name was Bevin, and he had a chicken farm near Chalfont St. Giles, whence he supplied, on yearly contract, two or three high-class London hotels. He was also, he said, on the edge of launching out into herb-growing.
‘There’s a demand for herbs,’ said he; ‘but it all depends upon your connections with the wholesale dealers. We ain’t systematic enough. The French do it much better, especially in those mountains on the Swiss an’ Italian sides. They use more herbal remedies than we do. Our patent-medicine business has killed that with us. But there’s a demand still, if your connections are sound. I’m going in for it.’
A large, well-groomed Brother across the table (his name was Pole, and he seemed some sort of professional man) struck in with a detailed account of a hollow behind a destroyed village near Thiepval, where, for no ascertainable reason, a certain rather scarce herb had sprung up by the acre, he said, out of the overturned earth.
‘Last time I saw the place,’ said Bevin, ‘I thought it ‘ud be that way till Judgment Day. You know how it lay in that dip under that beet-factory. I saw it bombed up level in two days — into brick-dust mainly. They were huntin’ for St. Firmin Dump.’ He took a sandwich and munched slowly, wiping his face, for the night was close.
‘Ye-es,’ said Pole. ‘The trouble is there hasn’t been any judgment taken or executed. That’s why the world is where it is now. We didn’t need anything but justice — afterwards. Not gettin’ that, the bottom fell out of things, naturally.’
‘That’s how I look at it too,’ Bevin replied. ‘We didn’t want all that talk afterwards — we only wanted justice. What I say is, there must be a right and a wrong to things. It can’t all be kiss-an’-make-friends, no matter what you do.’
A thin, dark brother on my left, who had been attending to a cold pork pie (there are no pork pies to equal ours, which are home-made), suddenly lifted his long head, in which a pale blue glass eye swivelled insanely.
The Australian scowled. ‘No. We know they ain’t. And — and — that’s what makes us all so crazy angry with you.’ He threw back his head and laughed the spleen out of him. ‘What can you do with an Empire that — that don’t care what you do?’
Bevin nodded. The Australian choked off something he was going to say, as a Brother on his left claimed him. I heard them talk horses, while Bevin developed his herb-growing projects with the well-groomed Brother opposite.
At the end of the banquet, when pipes were drawn, the Australian addressed himself to Bevin, across me, and as the company re-arranged itself, we three came to anchor in the big anteroom where the best prints are hung. Here our Brother across the table joined us, and moored alongside.
The Australian was full of racial grievances, as must be in a young country; alternating between complaints that his people had not been appreciated enough in England, or too fulsomely complimented by an hysterical Press.
‘No-o,’ Pole drawled, after a while. ‘You’re altogether wrong. We hadn’t time to notice anything — we were all too busy fightin’ for our lives. What your crowd down under are suffering from is growing-pains. You’ll get over ’em in three hundred years or so — if you’re allowed to last so long.’
This turned the talk again to larger issues and possibilities — delivered on both sides straight from the shoulder without malice or heat, between bursts of song from round the piano at the far end. Bevin and I sat out, watching.
‘Well, you’re a trifle — what’s the word?— vindictive?— spiteful? At least, that’s what I’ve found. I expect it comes from drinking stewed tea with your meat four times a day,’ said Bevin. ‘No! I’d hate to have an Australian after me for anything in particular.’
It opened with an Australian of the name of Hickmot or Hickmer–Bevin called him both — who, finding his battalion completely expended at Gallipoli, had joined up with what stood of Bevin’s battalion, and had there remained, unrebuked and unnoticed. The point that Bevin laboured was that his man had never seen a table-cloth, a china plate, or a dozen white people together till, in his thirtieth year, he had walked for two months to Brisbane to join up. Pole found this hard to believe.
‘But it’s true,’ Bevin insisted. ‘This chap was born an’ bred among the black fellers, as they call ’em, two hundred miles from the nearest town, four hundred miles from a railway, an’ ten thousand from the grace o’ God — out in Queensland near some desert.’
‘Yes — but — Look here! From the time that this man Hickmot was twelve years old he’d ridden, driven — what’s the word?— conducted sheep for his father for thousands of miles on end, an’ months at a time, alone with these black fellers that you daren’t show the back of your neck to — else they knock your head in. That was all that he’d ever done till he joined up. He — he — didn’t belong to anything m the world, you understand. And he didn’t strike other men as being a — a human being.’
‘I dare say; but — well, a man notices another man, don’t he? You’d notice if there was a man standing or sitting or lyin’ near you, wouldn’t you? So’d any one. But you’d never notice Hickmot. His bein’ anywhere about wouldn’t stay in your mind. He just didn’t draw attention any more than anything else that happened to be about. Have you got it?’
‘I’ve nothing against him that way, an’ I’m — I was his platoon sergeant. He wouldn’t volunteer specially for any doings, but he’d slip out with the party and he’d slip back with what was left of ’em. No one noticed him, and he never opened his mouth about any doings. You’d think a man who had lived the way he’d lived among black fellers an’ sheep would be noticeable enough in an English battalion, wouldn’t you?’
‘Not at the time — but afterwards. If he was noticeable it was on account of his unnoticeability — same way you’d notice there not being an extra step at the bottom of the staircase when you thought there was.’
‘Ye-es,’ Pole said suddenly. ‘It’s the eternal mystery of personality. “God before Whom ever lie bare —” Some people can occlude their personality like turning off a tap. I beg your pardon. Carry on!’
‘Oh, I was the young blood of the village. Goal-keeper in our soccer team, secretary of the local cricket and rifle — oh, lor’!— clubs. Yes, an’ village theatricals. My father was the chemist in the village. How I did talk! What I did know!’ He beamed upon us all.
‘He was with our push for the rest of the war — an’ I don’t think he ever sprung a dozen words at one time. With his upbringing, you see, there wasn’t any subject that any man knew about he could open up on. He kept quiet, and mixed with his backgrounds. If there was a lump of dirt, or a hole in the ground, or what was — was left after anythin’ had happened, it would be Hickmot. That was all he wanted to be.’
‘You have it! He was the complete camouflager all through. That’s him to a dot. Look here! He hadn’t even a nickname in his platoon! And then a friend of mine from our village, of the name of Vigors, came out with a draft. Bert Vigors. As a matter of fact, I was engaged to his sister. And Bert hadn’t been with us a week before they called him “The Grief.” His father was an oldish man, a market-gardener — high-class vegetables, bit o’ glass, an’— an’ all the rest of it. Do you know anything about that particular business?’
‘Then you do know something about it. It is. Bert was the old man’s only son, an’— I don’t blame him — he’d done his damnedest to get exempted — for the sake of the business, you understand. But he caught it all right. The tribunal wasn’t takin’ any the day he went up. Bert was for it, with a few remarks from the patriotic old was-sers on the bench. Our county paper had ’em all.’
‘Mwor osee! The same tribunal, havin’ copped Bert, gave unconditional exemption to the opposition shop — a man called Margetts, in the market-garden business, which he’d established since the war, with his two sons who, every one in the village knew, had been pushed into the business to save their damned hides. But Margetts had a good lawyer to advise him. The whole case was frank and above-board to a degree — our county paper had it all in, too. Agricultural producevital necessity; the plough mightier than the sword; an’ those ducks on the bench, who had turned down Bert, noddin’ and smilin’ at Margetts, all full of his cabbage and green peas. What happened? The usual. Vigors’ business — he’s sixty-eight, with asthma — goes smash, and Margetts and Co. double theirs. So, then, that was Bert’s grievance, an’ he joined us full of it. That’s why they called him “The Grief.” Knowing the facts, I was with him; but being his sergeant, I had to check him, because grievances are catchin’, and three or four men with ’em make Companies — er — sticky. Luckily Bert wasn’t handy with his pen. He had to cork up his grievance mostly till he came across Hickmot, an’ Gord in Heaven knows what brought those two together. No! As y’were. I’m wrong about God! I always am. It was Sheep. Bert knew’s much about sheep as I do — an’ that’s Canterbury lamb — but he’d let Hickmot talk about ’em for hours, in return for Hickmot listenin’ to his grievance. Hickmot ‘ud talk sheep — the one created thing he’d ever open up on — an’ Bert ‘ud talk his grievance while they was waiting to go over the top. I’ve heard ’em again an’ again, and, of course, I encouraged ’em. Now, look here! Hickmot hadn’t seen an English house or a field or a road or — or anything any civ’lised man is used to in all his life! Sheep an’ blacks! Market-gardens an’ glass an’ exemption-tribunals! An’ the men’s teeth chatterin’ behind their masks between rum-issue an’ zero. Oh, there was fun in Hell those days, wasn’t there, boys?’
‘Look here! When we were lying up somewhere among those forsaken chicken-camps back o’ Doullens, I found Hickmot making mud-pies in a farmyard an’ Bert lookin’ on. He’d made a model of our village according to Bert’s description of it. He’d preserved it in his head through all those weeks an’ weeks o’ Bert’s yap; an’ he’d coughed it all up — Margetts’ house and gardens, old Mr. Vigors’ ditto; both pubs; my father’s shop, everything that he’d been told by Bert done out to scale in mud, with bits o’ brick and stick. Haig ought to have seen it; but as his sergeant I had to check him for misusin’ his winkle-pin on dirt. ‘Come to think of it, a man who runs about uninhabited countries, with sheep, for a livin’ must have gifts for mappin’ and scalin’ things somehow or other, or he’d be dead. I never saw anything like it — all out o’ what Bert had told him by word of mouth. An’ the next time we went up the line Hickmot copped it in the leg just in front of me.’
‘Oh, no. Only beginnin’. That was in December, somethin’ or other, ‘16. In Jan’ry Vigors copped it for keeps. I buried him — snowin’ blind it was — an’ before we’d got him under the whole show was crumped. I wanted to bury him again just to spite ’em (I’m a spiteful man by nature), but the party wasn’t takin’ any more — even if they could have found it. But, you see, we had buried him all right, which is what they want at home, and I wrote the usual trimmin’s about the chaplain an’ the full service, an’ what his captain had said about Bert bein’ recommended for a pip, an’ the irreparable loss an’ so on. That was in Jan’ry ‘17. In Feb’ry some time or other I got saved. My speciality had come to be bombin’s and night-doings. Very pleasant for a young free man, but — there’s a limit to what you can stand. It takes all men differently. Noise was what started me, at last. I’d got just up to the edge — wonderin’ when I’d crack an’ how many of our men I’d do in if it came on me while we were busy. I had that nice taste in the mouth and the nice temperature they call trench-fever, an’— I had to feel inside my head for the meanin’ of every order I gave or was responsible for executin’. You know!’
‘So, you see, the bettin’ was even on my drawin’ a V.C. or getting Number Umpty rest-camp or — a firing party before breakfast. But Gord saved me. (I made friends with Him the last two years of the war. The others went off too quick.) They wanted a bomb in’-instructor for the training-battalion at home, an’ He put it into their silly hearts to indent for me. It took ’em five minutes to make me understand I was saved. Then I vomited, an’ then I cried. You know!’ The fat face of Bevin had changed and grown drawn, even as he spoke; and his hands tugged as though to tighten an imaginary belt.
‘I don’t deny it’s a shade risky, specially when they take the pin out an’ start shakin’ it, same as the Chinks used to do in the woods at Beauty, when they were cuttin’ ’em down. But you live like a home defence Brigadier, besides week-end leaf. As a matter o’ fact, I married Bert’s sister soon’s I could after I got the billet, an’ I used to lie in our bed thinkin’ of the old crowd on the Somme an’— feelin’ what a swine I was. Of course, I earned two V.C.‘s a week behind the traverse in the exercise of my ord’nary duties, but that isn’t the same thing. An’ yet I’d only joined up because — because I couldn’t dam’ well help it.’
‘Too de sweet! Pronto! We got a letter in May from a Brighton hospital matron, sayin’ that one of the name of Hickmer was anxious for news o’ me, previous to proceedin’ to Roehampton for initiation into his new leg. Of course, we applied for him by return. Bert had written about him to his sister — my missus — every time he wrote at all; an’ any pal o’ Bert’s — well, you know what the ladies are like. I warned her about his peculiarities. She wouldn’t believe till she saw him. He was just the same. You’d ha’ thought he’d show up in England like a fresh stiff on snow — but you never noticed him. You never heard him; and if he didn’t want to be seen he wasn’t there. He just joined up with his background. I knew he could do that with men; but how in Hell, seein’ how curious women are, he could camouflage with the ladies — my wife an’ my mother to wit — beats me! He’d feed the chickens for us; he’d stand on his one leg — it was off above the knee — and saw wood for us. He’d run — I mean he’d hop — errands for Mrs. B, or mother; our dog worshipped him from the start, though I never saw him throw a word to him; and — yet he didn’t take any place anywhere. You’ve seen a rabbit — you’ve seen a pheasant-hidin’ in a ditch? Put your hand on it sometimes before it moved, haven’t you? Well, that was Hickmot — with two women in the house crazy to find out — find out — anything about him that made him human. You know what women are! He stayed with us a fortnight. He left us on a Sat’day to go to Roehampton to try his leg. On Friday he came over to the bombin’ ground — not saym’ anything, as usual — to watch me instruct my Suicide Club, which was only half an hour’s run by rail from our village. He had his overcoat on, an’ as soon as he reached the place it was mafeesh with him, as usual. Rabbit-trick again! You never noticed him. He sat in the bomb-proof behind the pit where the duds accumulate till it’s time to explode ’em. Naturally, that’s strictly forbidden to the public. So he went there, an’ no one noticed him. When he’d had enough of watchin’, he hopped off home to feed our chickens for the last time.’
‘Because I saw him come into the place just as I was goin’ down into the trench. Then he slipped my memory till my train went back. But it would have made no difference what our arrangements were. If Hickmer didn’t choose to be noticed, he wasn’t noticed. Just for curiosity’s sake I asked some o’ the Staff Sergeants whether they’d seen him on the ground. Not one-not one single one had — or could tell me what he was like. An’, Sat’day noon, he went off to Roehampton. We saw him into the train ourselves, with the lunch Mrs. B. had put up for him — a one-legged man an’ his crutch, in regulation blue, khaki warm an’ kit-bag. Takin’ everything together, per’aps he’d spoken as many as twenty times in the thirteen days he’d been with us. I’m givin’ it you straight as it happened. An’ now — look here!— this is what did happen.
‘Between two and three that Sunday morning — dark an’ blowin’ from the north — I was woke up by an explosion an’ people shoutin’ “Raid!” The first bang fetched ’em out like worms after rain. There was another some minutes afterwards, an’ me an’ a Sergeant in the Shropshires on leaf told ’em all to take cover. They did. There was a devil of a long wait an’ there was a third pop. Everybody, includin’ me, heard aeroplanes. I didn’t notice till afterwards that —’
‘Oh, I noticed a heap of things afterwards. What we noticed first — the Shropshire Sergeant an’ me — was a rick well alight back o’ Margetts’ house, an’, with that north wind, blowin’ straight on to another rick o’ Margetts’. It went up all of a whoosh. The next thing we saw by the light of it was Margetts’ house with a bomb-hole in the roof and the rafters leanin’ sideways like — like they always lean on such occasions. So we ran there, and the first thing we met was Margetts in his split-tailed nightie callin’ on his mother an’ damnin’ his wife. A man always does that when he’s cross. Have you noticed? Mrs. Margetts was in her nightie too, remindin’ Margetts that he hadn’t completed his rick insurance. An’ that’s a woman’s lovin’ care all over. Behind them was their eldest son, in trousers an’ slippers, nursin’ his arm an’ callin’ for the doctor. They went through us howlin’ like flammemwerfer casualties — right up the street to the surgery.
‘Well, there wasn’t anything to do except let the show burn out. We hadn’t any means of extinguishing conflagrations. Some of ’em fiddled with buckets, an’ some of ’em tried to get out some o’ Margetts’ sticks, but his younger son kept shoutin’, “Don’t! Don’t! It’ll be stole! It’ll be stole!” So it burned instead, till the roof came down, top of all — a little, cheap, dirty villa, In reel life one whizz-bang would have shifted it; but in our civil village it looked that damned important and particular you wouldn’t believe. We couldn’t get round to Margetts’ stable because of the two ricks alight, but we found some one had opened the door early an’ the horses was in Margetts’ new vegetable piece down the hill which he’d hired off old Vigors to extend his business with. I love the way a horse always looks after his own belly — same as a Gunner. They went to grazin’ down the carrots and onions till young Margetts ran to turn ’em out, an’ then they got in among the glass frames an’ cut themselves. Oh, we had a regular Russian night of it, everybody givin’ advice an’ fallin’ over each other. When it got light we saw the damage. House, two ricks an’ stable mafeesh; the big glasshouse with every pane smashed and the furnace-end of it blown clean out. All the horses an’ about fifteen head o’ cattle — butcher’s stores from the next field — feeding in the new vegetable piece. It was a fair clean-up from end to end — house, furniture, fittin’s, plant, an’ all the early crops.’
‘I’m coming to it — the curious part — but I wouldn’t call it damage. I was renting a field then for my chickens off the Merecroft Estate. It’s accommodation-land, an’ there was a wet ditch at the bottom that I had wanted for ever so long to dam up to make a swim-hole for Mrs. Bevin’s ducks.’
‘S’pose I was allowed? Not me. Their Agent came down on me for tamperin’ with the Estate’s drainage arrangements. An’ all I wanted was to bring the bank down where the ditch narrows — a couple of cartloads of dirt would have held the water back for half-a-dozen yards — not more than that, an’ I could have made a little spill-way over the top with three boards — same as in trenches. Well, the first bomb — the one that woke me up — had done my work for me better than I could. It had dropped just under the hollow of the bank an’ brought it all down in a fair landslide. I’d got my swim-hole for Mrs. Bevin’s ducks, an’ I didn’t see how the Estate could kick at the Act o’ God, d’you?’
‘Hold on! There was a Parish Council meetin’ to demand reprisals, of course, an’ there was the policeman an’ me pokin’ about among the ruins till the Explosives Expert came down in his motor car at three p.m. Monday, an’ he meets all the Margetts off their rockers, howlin’ in the surgery, an’ he sees my swim-hole fillin’ up to the brim.’
‘He sized it up at once. (He had to get back to dine in town that evening.) He said all the evidence proved that it was a lucky shot on the part of one isolated Hun ‘plane gom’ home, an’ we weren’t to take it to heart. I don’t know that anybody but the Margetts did. He said they must have used incendiary bombs of a new type — which he’d suspected for a long time. I don’t think the man was any worse than God intended him to be. I don’t reelly. But the Shropshire Sergeant said —’
‘I didn’t think. I knew by then. I’m not a Sherlock Holmes; but havin’ chucked ’em an’ chucked ’em back and kicked ’em out of the light an’ slept with ’em for two years, an’ makin’ my livin’ out of them at that time, I could recognise the fuse of a Mills bomb when I found it. I found all three of ’em. ‘Curious about that second in Margetts’ glasshouse. Hickmot mus’ have raked the ashes out of the furnace, popped it in, an’ shut the furnace door. It operated all right. Not one livin’ pane left in the putty, and all the brickwork spread round the yard in streaks. Just like that St. Firmin village we were talking about.’
‘Crutch!’ said Bevin. ‘If you or me had taken on that night’s doin’s, with one leg, we’d have hopped and sweated from one flank to another an’ been caught half-way between. Hickmot didn’t. I’m as sure as I’m sittin’ here that he did his doings quiet and comfortable at his full height — he was over six feet — and no one noticed him. This is the way I see it. He fixed the swim-hole for Mrs. Bevin’s ducks first. We used to talk over our own affairs in front of him, of course, and he knew just what she wanted in the way of a pond. So he went and made it at his leisure. Then he prob’ly went over to Margetts’ and lit the first rack, knowin’ that the wind ‘ud do the rest. When young Margetts saw the light of it an’ came out to look, Hickmot would have taken post at the back-door an’ dropped the young swine with his crutch, same as we used to drop Huns comin’ out of a dug-out. You know how they blink at the light? Then he must have walked off an’ opened Margetts’ stable door to save the horses. They’d be more to him than any man’s life. Then he prob’ly chucked one bomb on top o’ Margetts’ roof, havin’ seen that the first rick had caught the second and that the whole house was bound to go. D’you get me?’
‘For camouflage, of course. He was camouflagin’ an air-raid. When the Margetts piled out of their place into the street, he prob’ly attended to the glasshouse, because that would be Margetts’ chief means o’ business. After that — I think so, because otherwise I don’t see where all those extra cattle came from that we found in the vegetable piece — he must have walked off an’ rounded up all the butcher’s beasts in the next medder, an’ driven ’em there to help the horses. And when he’d finished everything he’d set out to do, I’ll lay my life an’ kit he curled up like a bloomin’ wombat not fifty yards away from the whole flamin’ show — an’ let us run round him. An’ when he’d had his sleep out, he went up to Roehampton Monday mornin’ by some tram that he’d decided upon in his own mind weeks an’ weeks before.’
‘What do you think? He was an hour in the park watchin’ me instruct, sittin’, as I remember, in the bomb-proof by the dud-hole, in his overcoat. He got ’em all right. He took neither more nor less than he wanted; an’ I’ve told you what he did with ’em — one two an’ three.’
‘Yes. ‘Saw him at Brighton when I went down there with the missus, not a month after he’d been broken in to his Roehampton leg. You know how the boys used to sit all along Brighton front in their blues, an’ jump every time the coal was bein’ delivered to the hotels behind them? I barged into him opposite the Old Ship, an’ I told him about our air-raid. I told him how Margetts had gone off his rocker an’ walked about starin’ at the sky an’ holdin’ reprisal-meetin’s all by himself; an’ how old Mr. Vigors had bought in what he’d left — tho’ of course I said what was left o’ Margetts’ business; an’ how well my swim-hole for the ducks was doin’. It didn’t interest him. He didn’t want to come over to stay with us any more, either. We were a long, long way back in his past. You could see that. He wanted to get back with his new leg, to his own God-forsaken sheep-walk an’ his black fellers in Queensland. I expect he’s done it now, an’ no one has noticed him. But, by Gord! He did leak a little at the end. He did that much! When we was waitin’ for the tram to the station, I said how grateful I was to Fritz for moppin’ up Margetts an’ makin’ our swim-hole all in one night. Mrs. B. seconded the motion. We couldn’t have done less. Well, then Hickmot said, speakin’ in his queer way, as if English words were all new to him: “Ah, go on an’ bail up in Hell,” he says. “Bert was my friend.” That was all. I’ve given it you just as it happened, word for word. I’d hate to have an Australian have it in for me for anything I’d done to his friend. Mark you, I don’t say there’s anything wrong with you Australians, Brother Orton. I only say they ain’t like us or any one else that I know.’
‘Well, I’ll run you out home before sun-up. I’m a haulage-contractor now — London and Oxford. There’s an empty of mine ordered to Oxford. We can go round by your place as easy as not. She’s lyin’ out Vauxhall-way.’
‘My Gord! An’ see the sun rise again! ‘Haven’t seen him since I can’t remember when,’ said Bevin, chuckling. ‘Oh, there was fun sometimes in Hell, wasn’t there, Australia?’; and again his hands event down to tighten the belt that was missing.
IF the Order Above be but the reflection of the Order Below (as that Ancient affirms, who had some knowledge of the Order), it is not outside the Order of Things that there should have been confusion also in the Department of Death. The world’s steadily falling death-rate, the rising proportion of scientifically prolonged fatal illnesses, which allowed months of warning to all concerned, had weakened initiative throughout the Necrological Departments. When the War came, these were as unprepared as civilised mankind; and, like mankind, they improvised and recriminated in the face of Heaven.
‘One must guard against that point of view,’ St. Peter returned, ‘but I know what you mean. Office officialises the best of us...What is it now?’ He turned to a prim-lipped Seraph who had followed him with an expulsion-form for signature. St. Peter glanced it over. ‘Private R. M. Buckland,’ he read, ‘on the charge of saying that there is no God. ‘That all?’
‘If you will make yourself acquainted with the Rules, you’ll find they lay down that “the fool says in his heart, there is no God.” That decides it; probably shell-shock. Have you tested his reflexes?’
‘The next time,’ said St. Peter, folding it down and writing on one corner, ‘that you get one of these — er — tinted forms, mark it Q.M.A. and pass bearer at once. Don’t worry over trifles.’ The Seraph flashed off and returned to the clamorous Gate.
‘I’ll ask,’ said Death, and moved to a public telephone near by. ‘Give me War Check and Audit: English side: non-combatant,’ he began. ‘Latest returns...Surely you’ve got them posted up to date by now!...Yes! Hospital Nurse in France...No! Not “nature and aliases.” I said — what-was-nature-of-illness?...Thanks.’ He turned to St. Peter. ‘Quite normal,’ he said. ‘Heart-failure after neglected pleurisy following overwork.’
Death sighed. ‘It’s the same with my old Departmental Heads. Nothing on earth will make my fossils on the Normal Civil Side realise that we are dying in a new age. Come and look at them. They might interest you.’
‘I’m just off on an inter-departmental inspection which will take me some time,’ said St. Peter. ‘You must learn to act on your own initiative. So I shall leave you to yourself for the next hour or two, merely suggesting (I don’t wish in any way to sway your judgment) that you invite St. Paul, St. Ignatius (Loyola, I mean) and — er — St. Christopher to assist as Supervising Assessors on the Board of Admission. Ignatius is one of the subtlest intellects we have, and an officer and a gentleman to boot. I assure you’— the Saint turned towards Death —‘he revels in dialectics. If he’s allowed to prove his case, he’s quite capable of letting off the offender. St. Christopher, of course, will pass anything that looks wet and muddy.’
‘So much the better; and — as I was going to say — St. Paul is an embarrass — a distinctly strong colleague. Still — we all have our weaknesses. Perhaps a well-timed reference to his seamanship in the Mediterranean — by the way, look up the name of his ship, will you? Alexandria register, I think-might be useful in some of those sudden maritime cases that crop up. I needn’t tell you to be firm, of course. That’s your besetting — er — I mean — reprimand ’em severely and publicly, but —’ the Saint’s voice broke —‘oh, my child, you don’t know what it is to need forgiveness. Be gentle with ’em — be very gentle with ’em!’
‘They’re quite as conservative. ‘Notice how they still keep the old Holbein uniforms?‘Morning, Sergeant Fell. How goes it?’ said Death as he swung the dusty doors and nodded at a Commissionaire, clad in the grim livery of Death, even as Hans Holbein has designed it.
‘Sadly. Very sadly indeed, sir,’ the Commissionaire replied. ‘So many pore ladies and gentlemen, sir, ‘oo might well ‘ave lived another few years, goin’ off, as you might say, in every direction with no time for the proper obsequities.’
‘You may well ask,’ his companion replied. ‘I’m only —’ he checked himself and went on. ‘The fact is, our Normal Civil Death side is controlled by a Being who considers himself all that I am and more. He’s Death as men have made him — in their own image.’ He pointed to a brazen plate, by the side of a black-curtained door, which read: ‘Normal Civil Death, K.G., K.T., K.P., P.C., etc.’ ‘He’s as human as mankind.’
‘Titles conferred on him from time to time. King of Ghosts; King of Terrors; King of Phantoms; Pallid Conqueror, and so forth. There’s no denying he’s earned every one of them. A first-class mind, but just a leetle bit of a sn —’
Civil Death did not belie his name. No monarch on earth could have welcomed them more graciously; or, in St. Peter’s case, with more of that particularity of remembrance which is the gift of good kings. But when Death asked him how his office was working, he became at once the Departmental Head with a grievance.
‘Thanks to this abominable war,’ he began testily, ‘my N.C.D. has to spend all its time fighting for mere existence. Your new War-side seems to think that nothing matters except the war. I’ve been asked to give up two-thirds of my Archives Basement (E. 7-E. 64) to the Polish Civilian Casualty Check and Audit. Preposterous! Where am I to move my Archives? And they’ve just been cross-indexed, too!’
‘Impossible! We may need to refer to them at any moment. There’s a case now which is interesting Us all — a Mrs. Ollerby. Worcestershire by extraction — dying of an internal hereditary complaint. At any moment, We may wish to refer to her dossier, and how can We if Our basement is given up to people over whom We exercise no departmental control? This war has been made excuse for slackness in every direction.’
‘A few years ago I should have concurred,’ Civil Death replied. ‘But since this — this recent outbreak of unregulated mortality there has been a distinct lack of respect toward certain aspects of Our administration. The attitude is bound to reflect itself in the office. The official is, in a large measure, what the public makes him. Of course, it is only temporary reaction, but the merest outsider would notice what I mean. Perhaps you would like to see for yourself?’ Civil Death bowed towards St. Peter, who feared that he might be taking up his time.
‘Not in the least. If I am not the servant of the public, what am I?’ Civil Death said, and preceded them to the landing. ‘Now, this’— he ushered them into an immense but badly lighted office —‘is our International Mortuary Department — the I.M.D. as we call it. It works with the Check and Audit. I should be sorry to say offhand how many billion sterling it represents, invested in the funeral ceremonies of all the races of mankind.’ He stopped behind a very bald-headed clerk at a desk. ‘And yet We take cognizance of the minutest detail, do not We?’ he went on. ‘What have We here, for example?’
‘Funeral expenses of the late Mr. John Shenks Tanner.’ The clerk stepped aside from the redruled book. ‘Cut down by the executors on account of the War from “173:19:1 to “47:18:4. A sad falling off, if I may say so, Your Majesty.’
‘A pernicious example, spreading, I fear, even in the lowest classes,’ his superior muttered. ‘Haste, lack of respect for the Dread Summons, carelessness in the Subsequent Disposition of the Corpse and —’
‘Good Heavens!’ said Civil Death swellingly. ‘No cards! I must look into this myself. Forgive me, St. Peter, but we Servants of Humanity, as you know, are not our own masters. No cards, indeed!’ He waved them off with an official hand, and immersed himself in the ledger.
‘Yes,’ the messenger went on.‘Lattimer said to his brother: “Bert, I haven’t time to worry about a little thing like dying these days, and what’s more important, you haven’t either. You go back to your Somme doin’s, and I’ll put it through with Aunt Maria. It’ll amuse her and it won’t hinder you.” That’s nice stuff for your boss!’ The messenger whistled and departed. A clerk groaned as he snatched up the reel.
‘I can’t bring in Aunt Maria any way,’ the clerk broke out at last. ‘Listen here, every one! She has heart-disease. She dies just as she’s lifted the dropsical Lattimer to change his sheets. She says: “Sorry, Willy! I’d make a dam’ pore ‘ospital nurse!”; Then she sits down and croaks. Now I call that good! I’ve a great mind to take it round to the War-side as an indirect casualty and get a breath of fresh air.’
‘Did you? Well, take the late Mr. Wilbraham Lattimer’s and Miss Maria Lattimer’s papers to the War-side General Reference Office. When they have been passed upon, tell the Attendance Clerk that you are to serve as probationer in — let’s see — in the Domestic Induced Casualty Side — 7 G.S.’
Almost before Death ceased speaking, it was ripped off and flung on the floor, and that which had been a sober clerk of Normal Civil Death stood up an unmistakable, curly-haired, bat-winged, faun-eared Imp of the Pit. But where his wings joined his shoulders there was a patch of delicate dove-coloured feathering that gave promise to spread all up the pinion. St. Peter saw it and smiled, for it was a known sign of grace.
‘Well, if one doesn’t help one’s Staff, one’s Staff will never help itself,’ Death retorted. ‘Now, I shall have to pitch in a stiff demi-official asking how that young fiend came to be taken on in the N.C.D. without examination. And I must do it before the N.C.D. complain that I’ve been interfering with their departmental transfers. Aren’t they human? If you want to go back to The Gate I think our shortest way will be through here and across the War–Sheds.’
The shift trooped on — such an array of Powers, Honours, Glories, Toils, Patiences, Services, Faiths and Loves as no man may conceive even by favour of dreams. Death and St. Peter followed them into a D.I.C.D. Shed on the English side where, for the moment, work had slackened. Suddenly a name flashed on the telephone-indicator. ‘Mrs. Arthur Bedott, 317, Portsmouth Avenue, Brondesbury. Husband badly wounded. One child.’ Her special weakness was appended.
A Seraph on the raised dais that overlooked the Volunteer Aids waiting at the entrance, nodded and crooked a finger. One of the new shift — a temporary Acting Glory — hurled himself from his place and vanished earthward.
‘You may take it,’ Death whispered to St. Peter, ‘there will be a sustaining epic built up round Private Bedott’s wound for his wife and Baby Bedott to cling to. And here —‘they heard wings that flapped wearily —‘here, I suspect, comes one of our failures.’
A Seraph entered and dropped, panting, on a form. His plumage was ragged, his sword splintered to the hilt; and his face still worked with the passions of the world he had left, as his soiled vesture reeked of alcohol.
There was no need to ask. The messenger’s face glowed and his nostrils quivered with it. Scarcely pausing to salute, he poised and dived, and the papers on the desks spun beneath the draught of his furious vans.
St. Peter nodded high approval. ‘I see!’ he said. ‘He’ll work on her pride to steady her. By all means —“if by all means,” as my good Paul used to say. Only it ought to read “by any manner of possible means.” Excellent!’
It showed for an instant, broken and faint as sparks on charred wadding, but in that instant a dozen pens had it written. St. Peter with never a word gathered his robes about him and bundled through the door, headlong for The Gate.
‘‘Never can be sure these days. Anyhow, the Lower Establishment will be after him like sharks. He’s the very type they’d want for propaganda. Deserter-traitor-murderer. Out of my way, please, babies!’
‘You can!’ St. Peter gasped. ‘Double on ahead to The Gate and tell them to hold up all expulsions till I come. Then,’ he shouted as the man sped off at a long hound-like trot, ‘go and picket the outskirts of the Convoys. Don’t let any one break away on any account. Quick!’
But Death was right. They need not have hurried. The crowd at The Gate was far beyond the capacities of the Examining Board even though, as St. Peter’s Deputy informed him, it had been enlarged twice in his absence.
‘We’re doing our best,’ the Seraph explained, ‘but delay is inevitable, Sir. The Lower Establishment are taking advantage of it, as usual, at the tail of the Convoys. I’ve doubled all pickets there, and I’m sending more. Here’s the extra list, Sir–Arc J., Bradlaugh C., Bunyan J., Calvin J. Iscariot J. reported to me just now, as under your orders, and took ’em with him. Also Shakespeare W. and —’
‘Never mind the rest,’ said St. Peter. I— I’m going there myself. Meantime, carry on with the passes — don’t fiddle over ’em — and give me a blank or two.’ He caught up a thick block of Free Passes, nodded to a group in khaki at a passport table, initialled their Commanding Officer’s personal pass as for ‘Officer and Party,’ and left the numbers to be filled in by a quite competent-looking Quarter-master-Sergeant. Then, Death beside him, he breasted his way out of The Gate against the incoming multitude of all races, tongues, and creeds that stretched far across the plain.
An old lady, firmly clutching a mottle-nosed, middle-aged Major by the belt, pushed across a procession of keen-faced poilus, and blocked his path, her captive held in that terrible mother-grip no Power has yet been able to unlock.
‘I.W.— the Importunate Widow. It’s scandalous!’ St. Peter groaned. Then his face darkened as he looked across the great plain beyond The Gate. ‘I don’t like this,’ he said. ‘The Lower Establishment is out in full force to-night. I hope our pickets are strong enough —’
The crowd here had thinned to a disorderly queue flanked on both sides by a multitude of busy, discreet emissaries from the Lower Establishment who continually edged in to do business with them, only to be edged off again by a line of watchful pickets. Thanks to the khaki everywhere, the scene was not unlike that which one might have seen on earth any evening of the old days outside the refreshment-room by the Arch at Victoria Station, when the Army trains started. St. Peter’s appearance was greeted by the usual outburst of cock-crowing from the Lower Establishment.
He shouldered into the thick of the confusion where the pickets coaxed, threatened, implored, and in extreme cases bodily shoved the wearied men and women past the voluble and insinuating spirits who strove to draw them aside.
A Shropshire Yeoman had just accepted, together with a forged pass, the assurance of a genial runner of the Lower Establishment that Heaven lay round the corner, and was being stealthily steered thither, when a large hand jerked him back, another took the runner in the chest, and some one thundered: ‘Get out, you crimp!’ The situation was then vividly explained to the soldier in the language of the barrack-room.
Meantime, a sunken-eyed Scots officer, utterly lost to the riot around, was being button-holed by a person of reverend aspect who explained to him that, by the logic of his own ancestral creed, not only was the Highlander irrevocably damned, but that his damnation had been predetermined before Earth was made.
‘Monsieur,’ it said, ‘would it be of any comfort to you to know that I am — I was — John Calvin?’ At this the reverend one cursed and swore like the lost Soul he was, while the Highlander turned to discuss with Calvin, pacing towards The Gate, some alterations in the fabric of a work of fiction called the Institutio.
Others were not so easily held. A certain Woman, with loosened hair, bare arms, flashing eyes and dancing feet, shepherded her knot of waverers, hoarse and exhausted. When the taunt broke out against her from the opposing line: ‘Tell ’em what you were! Tell ’em if you dare!’ she answered unflinchingly, as did Judas, who, worming through the crowd like an Armenian carpet-vendor, peddled his shame aloud that it might give strength to others.
‘Yes,’ he would cry, ‘I am everything they say, but if I’m here it must be a moral cert for you gents. This way, please. Many mansions, gentlemen! Go-ood billets! Don’t you notice these low people, Sar. Plees keep hope, gentlemen!’
When there were cases that cried to him from the ground — poor souls who could not stick it but had found their way out with a rifle and a boot-lace, he would tell them of his own end, till he made them contemptuous enough to rise up and curse him. Here St. Luke’s imperturbable bedside manner backed and strengthened the other’s almost too oriental flux of words.
In this fashion and step by step, all the day’s Convoy were piloted past that danger-point where the Lower Establishment are, for reasons not given us, allowed to ply their trade. The pickets dropped to the rear, relaxed, and compared notes.
‘What always impresses me most,’ said Death to St. Peter, ‘is the sheeplike simplicity of the intellectual mind.’ He had been watching one of the pickets apparently overwhelmed by the arguments of an advanced atheist who — so hot in his argument that he was deaf to the offers of the Lower Establishment to make him a god — had stalked, talking hard — while the picket always gave ground before him — straight past the Broad Road.
‘And John held his peace through it all,’ a full fresh voice broke in. ‘“It may be so,” says John. “Doubtless, in your belief, it is so,” says John. “Your words move me mightily,” says John, and gorges his own beliefs like a pike going backwards. And that young fool, so busy spinning words-words-words — that he trips past Hell Mouth without seeing it!...Who’s yonder, Joan?’
‘One of your English. ‘Always late. Look!’ A young girl with short-cropped hair pointed with her sword across the plain towards a single faltering figure which made at first as though to overtake the Convoy, but then turned left towards the Lower Establishment, who were enthusiastically cheering him as a leader of enterprise.
‘Nobody ever gave me credit for anything I did,’ he began, sobbing and gesticulating. ‘They were all against me from the first. I only wanted a little encouragement. It was a regular conspiracy, but I showed ’em what I could do! I showed ’em! And — and —’ he halted again. ‘Oh, God! What are you going to do with me?’
‘Oh, hurry up and get it over,’ the man wailed, and told them all that he had done, ending with the cry that none had ever recognised his merits; neither his own narrow-minded people, his inefficient employers, nor the snobbish jumped-up officers of his battalion.
But the Saint was not listening. ‘You have it!’ he cried. ‘Samuel Two, Double Fourteen. To think that I should have forgotten! “For we must needs die and are as water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Neither Both God respect any person, yet —” Here, you! Listen to this!’
‘“Yet doth He devise means (d’you understand that?) devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him!” This covers your case. I don’t know what the means will be. That’s for you to find out. They’ll tell you yonder.’ He nodded towards the now silent Lower Establishment as he scribbled on a pass. ‘Take this paper over to them and report for duty there. You’ll have a thin time of it; but they won’t keep you a day longer than I’ve put down. Escort!’
The Saint and Death stayed behind to rest awhile. It was a heavenly evening. They could hear the whistle of the low-flighting Cherubim, clear and sharp, under the diviner note of some released Seraph’s wings, where, his errand accomplished, he plunged three or four stars deep into the cool Baths of Hercules; the steady dynamo-like hum of the nearer planets on their axes; and, as the hush deepened, the surprised little sigh of some new-born sun a universe of universes away. But their minds were with the Convoy that their eyes followed.
Said St. Peter proudly at last: ‘If those people of mine had seen that fellow stripped of all hope in front of ’em, I doubt if they could have marched another yard to-night. Watch ’em stepping out now, though! Aren’t they human?’
He Who used the clay that clings on our boots to make us.
Shall not suffer earthly things to remove or shake us:
But, when Man denies His Lord.
Habit without Fleet or Sword
(Custom without threat or word)
Sees the ancient fanes restored — the timeless rites o’ertake us.
THE Cantor of St. Illod’s being far too enthusiastic a musician to concern himself with its Library, the Sub–Cantor, who idolised every detail of the work, was tidying up, after two hours’ writing and dictation in the Scriptorium. The copying-monks handed him in their sheets — it was a plain Four Gospels ordered by an Abbot at Evesham — and filed out to vespers. John Otho, better known as John of Burgos, took no heed. He was burnishing a tiny boss of gold in his miniature of the Annunciation for his Gospel of St. Luke, which it was hoped that Cardinal Falcodi, the Papal Legate, might later be pleased to accept.
The Sub–Cantor waited patiently. He had known John more than a dozen years, coming and going at St. Illod’s, to which monastery John, when abroad, always said he belonged. The claim was gladly allowed, for, more even than other Fitz Othos, he seemed to carry all the Arts under his hand, and most of their practical receipts under his hood.
The Sub–Cantor looked over his shoulder at the pinned-down sheet where the first words of the Magnificat were built up in gold washed with red-lac for a background to the Virgin’s hardly yet fired halo. She was shown, hands joined in wonder, at a lattice of infinitely intricate arabesque, round the edges of which sprays of orange-bloom seemed to load the blue hot air that carried back over the minute parched landscape in the middle distance.
‘Even mine, by your permission. And down south — on the edge of the Conquered Countries–Granada way — there’s some Moorish diaper-work that’s wholesome. It allays vain thought and draws it toward the picture — as you felt, just now, in my Annunciation.’
‘Surely.’ This was a precaution John no more omitted on the eve of his travels than he did the recutting of the tonsure which he had provided himself with in his youth, somewhere near Ghent. The mark gave him privilege of clergy at a pinch, and a certain consideration on the road always.
John went down the stairs to the lane that divides the hospital and cook-house from the back-cloisters. While he was being barbered, Brother Thomas (St. Illod’s meek but deadly persistent Infirmarian) gave him a list of drugs that he was to bring back from Spain by hook, crook, or lawful purchase. Here they were surprised by the lame, dark Abbot Stephen, in his fur-lined night-boots. Not that Stephen de Sautre was any spy; but as a young man he had shared an unlucky Crusade, which had ended, after a battle at Mansura, in two years’ captivity among the Saracens at Cairo where men learn to walk softly. A fair huntsman and hawker, a reasonable disciplinarian, but a man of science above all, and a Doctor of Medicine under one Ranulphus, Canon of St. Paul’s, his heart was more m the monastery’s hospital work than its religious. He checked their list interestedly, adding items of his own. After the Infirmarian had withdrawn, he gave John generous absolution, to cover lapses by the way; for he did not hold with chance — bought Indulgences.
‘Because it stands to reason and Art that there are all musters of devils in Hell’s dealings. Those Seven, for example, that were haled out of the Magdalene. They’d be she-devils — no kin at all to the beaked and horned and bearded devils-general.’
‘And see again! The devil that came out of the dumb man. What use is snout or bill to him? He’d be faceless as a leper. Above all — God send I live to do it!— the devils that entered the Gadarene swine. They’d be — they’d be — I know not yet what they’d be, but they’d be surpassing devils. I’d have ’em diverse as the Saints themselves. But now, they’re all one pattern, for wall, window, or picture-work.’
‘Oh, they drive nothing to a head in Spain — neither Church nor King, bless them! There’s too many Moors and Jews to kill them all, and if they chased ’em away there’d be no trade nor farming. Trust me, in the Conquered Countries, from Seville to Granada, we live lovingly enough together — Spaniard, Moor, and Jew. Ye see, we ask no questions.’
The Abbot went on into the hospital. It was an easy age before Rome tightened the screw as to clerical connections. If the lady were not too forward, or the son too much his father’s beneficiary in ecclesiastical preferments and levies, a good deal was overlooked. But, as the Abbot had reason to recall, unions between Christian and Infidel led to sorrow. None the less, when John with mule, mails, and man, clattered off down the lane for Southampton and the sea, Stephen envied him.
He was back, twenty months later, in good hard case, and loaded down with fairings. A lump of richest lazuli, a bar of orange-hearted vermilion, and a small packet of dried beetles which make most glorious scarlet, for the SubCantor. Besides that, a few cubes of milky marble, with yet a pink flush in them, which could be slaked and ground down to incomparable background-stuff. There were quite half the drugs that the Abbot and Thomas had demanded, and there was a long deep-red cornelian necklace for the Abbot’s Lady–Anne of Norton. She received it graciously, and asked where John had come by it.
‘Thank God for that at least,’ said Anne of Norton, the always ailing woman who followed the Abbot with her sunk eyes. ‘And be sure I shall treasure this’— she touched the beads —‘as long as I shall live.’
‘I brought — trusted — it to you for that,’ he replied, and took leave. When she told the Abbot how she had come by it, he said nothing, but as he and Thomas were storing the drugs that John handed over in the cell which backs on to the hospital kitchen-chimney, he observed, of a cake of dried poppy juice: ‘This has power to cut off all pain from a man’s body.’
John spent the next fair May day out in the woods with the monastery swineherd and all the porkers; and returned loaded with flowers and sprays of spring, to his own carefully kept place in the north bay of the Scriptorium. There, with his travelling sketch-books under his left elbow, he sunk himself past all recollections in his Great Luke.
‘Then see!’ John laid out a new vellum — thin but flawless. ‘There’s no better than this sheet from here to Paris. Yes! Smell it if you choose. Wherefore — give me the compasses and I’ll set it out for you — if ye make one letter lighter or darker than its next, I’ll stick ye like a pig.’
‘Never, John!’ The old man beamed happily. ‘But I will! Now, follow! Here and here, as I prick, and in script of just this height to the hair’s-breadth, yell scribe the thirty-first and thirty-second verses of Eighth Luke.’
‘Yes, the Gadarene Swine! “And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the abyss. And there was a herd of many swine”’—— Brother Martin naturally knew all the Gospels by heart.
Brother Martin achieved the work so perfectly that John stole some soft sweetmeats from the Abbot’s kitchen for his reward. The old man ate them; then repented; then confessed and insisted on penance. At which, the Abbot, knowing there was but one way to reach the real sinner, set him a book called De Virtutibus Herbarum to fair-copy. St. Illod’s had borrowed it from the gloomy Cistercians, who do not hold with pretty things, and the crabbed text kept Martin busy just when John wanted him for some rather specially spaced letterings.
But about mid-summer, Thomas the Infirmarian conveyed to John the Abbot’s invitation to supper in his house that night, with the request that he would bring with him anything that he had done for his Great Luke.
‘Ten times worthier than that new fat swine — Henry Who’s-his-name — that takes the Infirmary Masses. He bullocks in with the Viaticum, under your nose, when a sick man’s only faint from being bled. So the man dies — of pure fear. Ye know it! I’ve watched your face at such times. Take Orders, Didymus. You’ll have a little more medicine and a little less Mass with your sick then; and they’ll live longer.’
‘Not you — but — to your own master you stand or fall. And now that my work releases me for awhile, I’ll drink with any philosopher out of any school. And, Thomas,’ he coaxed, ‘a hot bath for me in the Infirmary before vespers.’
When the Abbot’s perfectly cooked and served meal had ended, and the deep-fringed naperies were removed, and the Prior had sent in the keys with word that all was fast in the Monastery, and the keys had been duly returned with the word, ‘Make it so till Prime,’ the Abbot and his guests went out to cool themselves in an upper cloister that took them, by way of the leads, to the South Choir side of the Triforium. The summer sun was still strong, for it was barely six o’clock, but the Abbey Church, of course, lay in her wonted darkness. Lights were being lit for choir-practice thirty feet below.
‘Remember, all!’ the Cantor’s hard voice came up. ‘This is the soul of Bernard himself, attacking our evil world. Take it quicker than yesterday, and throw all your words clean-bitten from you. In the loft there! Begin!’
‘Ecce minaciter, imminet Arbiter’ (organ and voices were leashed togethor in terror and warning, breaking away liquidly to the ‘ille supremus’). Then the tone-colours shifted for the prelude to ‘Imminet, imminet, ut mala terminet —’
‘Ah! Pity o’ man’s vanity! He’s guessed we are here. Come away!’ said the Abbot. Anne of Norton, in her carried chair, had been listening too, further along the dark Triforium, with Roger of Salerno. John heard her sob. On the way back, he asked Thomas how her health stood. Before Thomas could reply the sharp-featured Italian doctor pushed between them. ‘Following on our talk together, I judged it best to tell her,’ said he to Thomas.
Roger of Salerno was quite quiet till they regained the dining-room, where the fire had been comforted and the dates, raisins, ginger, figs, and cinnamon-scented sweetmeats set out, with the choicer wines, on the after-table. The Abbot seated himself, drew off his ring, dropped it, that all might hear the tinkle, into an empty silver cup, stretched his feet towards the hearth, and looked at the great gilt and carved rose in the barrel-roof. The silence that keeps from Compline to Matins had closed on their world. The bull-necked Friar watched a ray of sunlight split itself into colours on the rim of a crystal salt-cellar; Roger of Salerno had re-opened some discussion with Brother Thomas on a type of spotted fever that was baffling them both in England and abroad; John took note of the keen profile, and — it might serve as a note for the Great Luke — his hand moved to his bosom. The Abbot saw, and nodded permission. John whipped out silver-point and sketch-book.
‘Nay — modesty is good enough — but deliver your own opinion,’ the Italian was urging the Infirmarian. Out of courtesy to the foreigner nearly all the talk was in table-Latin; more formal and more copious than monk’s patter. Thomas began with his meek stammer.
‘I confess myself at a loss for the cause of the fever unless — as Varro saith in his De Re Rustica — certain small animals which the eye cannot follow enter the body by the nose and mouth, and set up grave diseases. On the other hand, this is not in Scripture.’
‘Never at rest, John.’ The Abbot smiled at the artist. ‘You should break off every two hours for prayers, as we do. St. Benedict was no fool. Two hours is all that a man can carry the edge of his eye or hand.’
‘There is no danger of justice’; the Friar spoke bitterly. ‘But at least Man might be suffered to go forward in his Art or his thought. Yet if Mother Church sees or hears him move anyward, what says she? “No!” Always “No.”’
‘Ay!’ Roger de Salerno dashed at the fresh bait like a pike. ‘Listen, Sirs. Her bishops — our Princes — strew our roads in Italy with carcasses that they make for their pleasure or wrath. Beautiful corpses! Yet if I— if we doctors — so much as raise the skin of one of them to look at God’s fabric beneath, what says Mother Church? “Sacrilege! Stick to your pigs and dogs, or you burn!”’
‘And not Mother Church only!’ the Friar chimed in. ‘Every way we are barred — barred by the words of some man, dead a thousand years, which are held final. Who is any son of Adam that his one say-so should close a door towards truth? I would not except even Peter Peregrinus, my own great teacher.’
‘Nor I Paul of Aegina,’ Roger of Salerno cried. ‘Listen, Sirs! Here is a case to the very point. Apuleius affirmeth, if a man eat fasting of the juice of the cut-leaved buttercup-sceleratus we call it, which means “rascally”’— this with a condescending nod towards John —‘his soul will leave his body laughing. Now this is the lie more dangerous than truth, since truth of a sort is in it.’
‘For the juice of that herb, I know by experiment, burns, blisters, and wries the mouth. I know also the rictus, or pseudo-laughter, on the face of such as have perished by the strong poisons of herbs allied to this ranunculus. Certainly that spasm resembles laughter. It seems then, in my judgment, that Apuleius, having seen the body of one thus poisoned, went off at score and wrote that the man died laughing.’
‘I’m no doctor,’ John returned, ‘but I’d say Apuleius in all these years might have been betrayed by his copyists. They take short-cuts to save ‘emselves trouble. Put case that Apuleius wrote the soul seems to leave the body laughing, after this poison. There’s not three copyists in five (my judgment) would not leave out the “seems to.” For who’d question Apuleius? If it seemed so to him, so it must be. Otherwise any child knows cut-leaved buttercup.’
‘Devils? Devils? I have produced devils by means of drugs; and have abolished them by the same means. Whether devils be external to mankind or immanent, I have not yet pronounced.’ Roger of Salerno was still angry.
‘Not wholly! Our John has come back from Spain with brand-new ones.’ Abbot Stephen took the vellum handed to him, and laid it tenderly on the table. They gathered to look. The Magdalene was drawn in palest, almost transparent, grisaille, against a raging, swaying background of woman-faced devils, each broke to and by her special sin, and each, one could see, frenziedly straining against the Power that compelled her.
Roger of Salerno was looking in silence — his nose nearer and nearer the page. ‘It is so,’ he pronounced finally. ‘Thus it is in epilepsy — mouth, eyes, and forehead — even to the droop of her wrist there. Every sign of it! She will need restoratives, that woman, and, afterwards, sleep natural. No poppy juice, or she will vomit on her waking. And thereafter — but I am not in my Schools.’ He drew himself up. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘you should be of Our calling. For, by the Snakes of Aesculapius, you see!’
These melted into convoluted flower- or flame-like bodies, ranging in colour from phosphorescent green to the black purple of outworn iniquity, whose hearts could be traced beating through their substance. But, for sign of hope and the sane workings of life, to be regained, the deep border was of conventionalised spring flowers and birds, all crowned by a kingfisher in haste, atilt through a clump of yellow iris.
Here were devils dishoused, in dread of being abolished to the Void, huddling and hurtling together to force lodgment by every opening into the brute bodies offered. Some of the swine fought the invasion, foaming and jerking; some were surrendering to it, sleepily, as to a luxurious back-scratching; others, wholly possessed, whirled off in bucking droves for the lake beneath. In one corner the freed man stretched out his limbs all restored to his control, and Our Lord, seated, looked at him as questioning what he would make of his deliverance.
Some devils were mere lumps, with lobes and protuberances — a hint of a fiend’s face peering through jelly-like walls. And there was a family of impatient, globular devillings who had burst open the belly of their smirking parent, and were revolving desperately toward their prey. Others patterned themselves into rods, chains and ladders, single or conjoined, round the throat and jaws of a shrieking sow, from whose ear emerged the lashing, glassy tail of a devil that had made good his refuge. And there were granulated and conglomerate devils, mixed up with the foam and slaver where the attack was fiercest. Thence the eye carried on to the insanely active backs of the downward-racing swine, the swineherd’s aghast face, and his dog’s terror.
The border to the picture was a diaper of irregular but balanced compartments or cellules, where sat, swam, or weltered, devils in blank, so to say — things as yet uninspired by Evil — indifferent, but lawlessly outside imagination. Their shapes resembled, again, ladders, chains, scourges, diamonds, aborted buds, or gravid phosphorescent globes — some well-nigh starlike.
‘I would say then’— Thomas rushed at it as one putting out his life’s belief at the stake —‘that these lower shapes in the bordure may not be so much hellish and malignant as models and patterns upon which John has tricked out and embellished his proper devils among the swine above there!’
‘I wise? God forbid! Only John, remember — one winter six years ago — the snow-flakes melting on your sleeve at the cookhouse-door. You showed me them through a little crystal, that made small things larger.’
‘In some sort,’ John replied, ‘Thomas has the right of it. Those shapes in the bordure were my workshop-patterns for the devils above. In my craft, Salerno, we dare not drug. It kills hand and eye. My shapes are to be seen honestly, in nature.’
The Abbot drew a bowl of rose-water towards him. ‘When I was prisoner with — with the Saracens after Mansura,’ he began, turning up the fold of his long sleeve, ‘there were certain magicians — physicians — who could show —’ he dipped his third finger delicately in the water —‘all the firmament of Hell, as it were, in’ he shook off one drop from his polished nail on to the polished table —‘even such a supernaculum as this.’
John drew from his bosom a stamped leather box, some six or eight inches long, wherein, bedded on faded velvet, lay what looked like silver-bound compasses of old box-wood, with a screw at the head which opened or closed the legs to minute fractions. The legs terminated, not in points, but spoon-shapedly, one spatula pierced with a metal-lined hole less than a quarter of an inch across, the other with a half-inch hole. Into this latter John, after carefully wiping with a silk rag, slipped a metal cylinder that carried glass or crystal, it seemed, at each end.
They followed him there. Half-way along, a drip from a gutter had made a greenish puddle in a worn stone. Very carefully, John dropped a drop of it into the smaller hole of the compassleg, and, steadying the apparatus on a coping, worked the screw m the compass joint, screwed the cylinder, and swung the swivel of the mirror till he was satisfied.
‘The light will go. Oh, let me look! Suffer me to see, also!’ the Friar pleaded, almost shouldering Stephen from the eye-piece. The Abbot gave way. His eyes were on time past. But the Friar, instead of looking, turned the apparatus in his capable hands.
John manipulated the tube for the Infirmarian, whose hands shook, and he too looked long. ‘It is Life,’ he said presently in a breaking voice. ‘No Hell! Life created and rejoicing — the work of the Creator. They live, even as I have dreamed. Then it was no sin for me to dream. No sin — O God — no sin!’
They walked quietly back along the leads, three English counties laid out in evening sunshine around them; church upon church, monastery upon monastery, cell after cell, and the bulk of a vast cathedral moored on the edge of the banked shoals of sunset.
‘But I— I can bear witness it is no Art Magic,’ the Friar went on. ‘Nothing is it, except Art optical — wisdom after trial and experiment, mark you. I can prove it, and — my name weighs with men who dare think.’
‘But thou knowest — knowest!’ Roger of Salerno had returned to the attack. ‘Here’s all the world in darkness concerning the causes of things — from the fever across the lane to thy Lady’s — throe own Lady’s — eating malady. Think!’
Thomas the Infirmarian lifted his head again; and this time he did not stammer at all. ‘As in the water, so in the blood must they rage and war with each other! I have dreamed these ten years — I thought it was a sin — but my dreams and Varro’s are true! Think on it again! Here’s the Light under our very hand!’
‘Quench it! You’d no more stand to roasting than any other. I’ll give you the case as Church — as I myself — would frame it. Our John here returns from the Moors, and shows us a hell of devils contending in the compass of one drop of water. Magic past clearance! You can hear the faggots crackle.’
‘It would seem,’ said he, ‘the choice lies between two sins. To deny the world a Light which is under our hand, or to enlighten the world before her time. What you have seen, I saw long since among the physicians at Cairo. And I know what doctrine they drew from it. Hast thou dreamed, Thomas? I also — with fuller knowledge. But this birth, my sons, is untimely. It will be but the mother of more death, more torture, more division, and greater darkness in this dark age. Therefore I, who know both my world and the Church, take this Choice on my conscience. Go! It is finished.’
AS watchers couched beneath a Bantine oak.
Hearing the dawn-wind stir.
Know that the present strength of night is broke
Though no dawn threaten her
Till dawn’s appointed hour — so Virgil died.
Aware of change at hand, and prophesied
Change upon all the Eternal Gods had made
And on the Gods alike — Fated as dawn but, as the dawn, delayed
Till the just hour should strike —
A Star new — risen above the living and dead;
And the lost shades that were our loves restored
As lovers, and for ever. So he said;
Having received the word...
Maecenas waits me on the Esquiline:
Thither to-night go I...
And shall this dawn restore us, Virgil mine.
To dawn? Beneath what sky?
EVERY one in the village knew that Helen Turrell did her duty by all her world, and by none more honourably than by her only brother’s unfortunate child. The village knew, too, that George Turrell had tried his family severely since early youth, and were not surprised to be told that, after many fresh starts given and thrown away, he, an Inspector of Indian Police, had entangled himself with the daughter of a retired noncommissioned officer, and had died of a fall from a horse a few weeks before his child was born. Mercifully, George’s father and mother were both dead, and though Helen, thirty-five and independent, might well have washed her hands of the whole disgraceful affair, she most nobly took charge, though she was, at the time, under threat of lung trouble which had driven her to the South of France. She arranged for the passage of the child and a nurse from Bombay, met them at Marseilles, nursed the baby through an attack of infantile dysentery due to the carelessness of the nurse, whom she had had to dismiss, and at last, thin and worn but triumphant, brought the boy late in the autumn, wholly restored, to her Hampshire home.
All these details were public property, for Helen was as open as the day, and held that scandals are only increased by hushing them up. She admitted that George had always been rather a black sheep, but things might have been much worse if the mother had insisted on her right to keep the boy. Luckily, it seemed that people of that class would do almost anything for money, and, as George had always turned to her in his scrapes, she felt herself justified — her friends agreed with her — in cutting the whole non-commissioned officer connection, and giving the child every advantage. A christening, by the Rector, under the name of Michael, was the first step. So far as she knew herself, she was not, she said, a child-lover, but, for all his faults, she had been very fond of George, and she pointed out that little Michael had his father’s mouth to a line; which made something to build upon.
As a matter of fact, it was the Turrell forehead, broad, low, and well-shaped, with the widely spaced eyes beneath it, that Michael had most faithfully reproduced. His mouth was somewhat better cut than the family type. But Helen, who would concede nothing good to his mother’s side, vowed he was a Turrell all over, and, there being no one to contradict, the likeness was established.
In a few years Michael took his place, as accepted as Helen had always been — fearless, philosophical, and fairly good-looking. At six, he wished to know why he could not call her ‘Mummy’, as other boys called their mothers. She explained that she was only his auntie, and that aunties were not quite the same as mummies, but that, if it gave him pleasure, he might call her ‘Mummy’ at bedtime, for a pet-name between themselves.
At ten years old, after two terms at a prep. school, something or somebody gave him the idea that his civil status was not quite regular. He attacked Helen on the subject, breaking down her stammered defences with the family directness.
‘Don’t believe a word of it,’ he said, cheerily, at the end. ‘People wouldn’t have talked like they did if my people had been married. But don’t you bother, Auntie. I’ve found out all about my sort in English Hist’ry and the Shakespeare bits. There was William the Conqueror to begin with, and — oh, heaps more, and they all got on first-rate. ‘Twon’t make any difference to you, my being that — will it?’
‘All right. We won’t talk about it any more if it makes you cry.’ He never mentioned the thing again of his own will, but when, two years later, he skilfully managed to have measles in the holidays, as his temperature went up to the appointed one hundred and four he muttered of nothing else, till Helen’s voice, piercing at last his delirium, reached him with assurance that nothing on earth or beyond could make any difference between them.
The terms at his public school and the wonderful Christmas, Easter, and Summer holidays followed each other, variegated and glorious as jewels on a string; and as jewels Helen treasured them. In due time Michael developed his own interests, which ran their courses and gave way to others; but his interest in Helen was constant and increasing throughout. She repaid it with all that she had of affection or could command of counsel and money; and since Michael was no fool, the War took him just before what was like to have been a most promising career.
He was to have gone up to Oxford, with a scholarship, in October. At the end of August he was on the edge of joining the first holocaust of public-school boys who threw themselves into the Line; but the captain of his OTC, where he had been sergeant for nearly a year, headed him off and steered him directly to a commission in a battalion so new that half of it still wore the old Army red, and the other half was breeding meningitis through living overcrowdedly in damp tents. Helen had been shocked at the idea of direct enlistment. ‘But it’s in the family,’ Michael laughed.
‘You don’t mean to tell me that you believed that old story all this time?’ said Helen. (Emma, her maid, had been dead now several years.) ‘I gave you my word of honour — and I give it again — that — that it’s all right. It is indeed.’
Michael’s battalion was fortunate in that, by some chance which meant several ‘leaves’, it was used for coast-defence among shallow trenches on the Norfolk coast; thence sent north to watch the mouth of a Scotch estuary, and, lastly, held for weeks on a baseless rumour of distant service. But, the very day that Michael was to have met Helen for four whole hours at a railway-junction up the line, it was hurled out, to help make good the wastage of Loos, and he had only just time to send her a wire of farewell.
In France luck again helped the battalion. It was put down near the Salient, where it led a meritorious and unexacting life, while the Somme was being manufactured; and enjoyed the peace of the Armentieres and Laventie sectors when that battle began. Finding that it had sound views on protecting its own flanks and could dig, a prudent Commander stole it out of its own Division, under pretence of helping to lay telegraphs, and used it round Ypres at large.
A month later, just after Michael had written Helen that there was nothing special doing and therefore no need to worry, a shell-splinter dropping out of a wet dawn killed him at once. The next shell uprooted and laid down over the body what had been the foundation of a barn wall, so neatly that none but an expert would have guessed that anything unpleasant had happened.
By this time the village was old in experience of war, and, English fashion, had evolved a ritual to meet it. When the postmistress handed her seven-year-old daughter the official telegram to take to Miss Turrell, she observed to the Rector’s gardener: ‘It’s Miss Helen’s turn now.’ He replied, thinking of his own son: ‘Well, he’s lasted longer than some.’ The child herself came to the front-door weeping aloud, because Master Michael had often given her sweets. Helen, presently, found herself pulling down the house-blinds one after one with great care, and saying earnestly to each: ‘Missing always means dead.’ Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through an inevitable series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope and prophesied word, very soon, from a prison camp. Several friends, too, told her perfectly truthful tales, but always about other women, to whom, after months and months of silence, their missing had been miraculously restored. Other people urged her to communicate with infallible Secretaries of organizations who could communicate with benevolent neutrals, who could extract accurate information from the most secretive of Hun prison commandants. Helen did and wrote and signed everything that was suggested or put before her.
Once, on one of Michael’s leaves, he had taken her over munition factory, where she saw the progress of a shell from blank-iron to the all but finished article. It struck her at the time that the wretched thing was never left alone for a single second; and ‘I’m being manufactured into a bereaved next of kin,’ she told herself, as she prepared her documents.
In due course, when all the organizations had deeply or sincerely regretted their inability to trace, etc., something gave way within her and all sensation — save of thankfulness for the release — came to an end in blessed passivity. Michael had died and her world had stood still and she had been one with the full shock of that arrest. Now she was standing still and the world was going forward, but it did not concern her — in no way or relation did it touch her. She knew this by the ease with which she could slip Michael’s name into talk and incline her head to the proper angle, at the proper murmur of sympathy.
In the blessed realization of that relief, the Armistice with all its bells broke over her and passed unheeded. At the end of another year she had overcome her physical loathing of the living and returned young, so that she could take them by the hand and almost sincerely wish them well. She had no interest in any aftermath, national or personal, of the war, but, moving at an immense distance, she sat on various relief committees and held strong views — she heard herself delivering them — about the site of the proposed village War Memorial.
Then there came to her, as next of kin, an official intimation, backed by a page of a letter to her in indelible pencil, a silver identity-disc, and a watch, to the effect that the body of Lieutenant Michael Turrell had been found, identified, and re-interred in Hagenzeele Third Military Cemetery — the letter of the row and the grave’s number in that row duly given.
So Helen found herself moved on to another process of the manufacture — to a world full of exultant or broken relatives, now strong in the certainty that there was an altar upon earth where they might lay their love. These soon told her, and by means of time-tables made clear, how easy it was and how little it interfered with life’s affairs to go and see one’s grave.
The agony of being waked up to some sort of second life drove Helen across the Channel, where, in a new world of abbreviated titles, she learnt that Hagenzeele Third could be comfortably reached by an afternoon train which fitted in with the morning boat, and that there was a comfortable little hotel not three kilometres from Hagenzeele itself, where one could spend quite a comfortable night and see one’s grave next morning. All this she had from a Central Authority who lived in a board and tar-paper shed on the skirts of a razed city full of whirling lime-dust and blown papers.
‘Yes, thank you,’ said Helen, and showed its row and number typed on Michael’s own little typewriter. The officer would have checked it, out of one of his many books; but a large Lancashire woman thrust between them and bade him tell her where she might find her son, who had been corporal in the A.S.C. His proper name, she sobbed, was Anderson, but, coming of respectable folk, he had of course enlisted under the name of Smith; and had been killed at Dickiebush, in early ‘Fifteen. She had not his number nor did she know which of his two Christian names he might have used with his alias; but her Cook’s tourist ticket expired at the end of Easter week, and if by then she could not find her child she should go mad. Whereupon she fell forward on Helen’s breast; but the officer’s wife came out quickly from a little bedroom behind the office, and the three of them lifted the woman on to the cot.
Tea in a crowded mauve and blue striped wooden structure, with a false front, carried her still further into the nightmare. She paid her bill beside a stolid, plain-featured Englishwoman, who, hearing her inquire about the train to Hagenzeele, volunteered to come with her.
‘I’m going to Hagenzeele myself,’ she explained .‘Not to Hagenzeele Third; mine is Sugar Factory, but they call it La Rosiere now. It’s just south of Hagenzeele Three. Have you got your room at the hotel there!’
‘That’s better. Sometimes the place is quite full, and at others there’s hardly a soul. But they’ve put bathrooms into the old Lion d’Or — that’s the hotel on the west side of Sugar Factory — and it draws off a lot of people, luckily.’
‘Indeed! This is my ninth time since the Armistice. Not on my own account. I haven’t lost any one, thank God — but, like every one else, I’ve a lot of friends at home who have. Coming over as often as I do, I find it helps them to have some one just look at the — the place and tell them about it afterwards. And one can take photos for them, too. I get quite a list of commissions to execute.’ She laughed nervously and tapped her slung Kodak. ‘There are two or three to see at Sugar Factory this time, and plenty of others in the cemeteries all about. My system is to save them up, and arrange them, you know. And when I’ve got enough commissions for one area to make it worth while, I pop over and execute them. It does comfort people.’
‘Of course it does. (Isn’t it lucky we’ve got window-seats!) It must do or they wouldn’t ask one to do it, would they! I’ve a list of quite twelve or fifteen commissions here’— she tapped the Kodak again —‘I must sort them out tonight. Oh, I forgot to ask you. What’s yours!’
Helen was grateful, but when they reached the hotel Mrs Scarsworth (they had exchanged names) insisted on dining at the same table with her, and after the meal, in the little, hideous salon full of low-voiced relatives, took Helen through her ‘commissions’ with biographies of the dead, where she happened to know them, and sketches of their next of kin. Helen endured till nearly half-past nine, ere she fled to her room.
‘Yes — yes — I know,’ she began. ‘You’re sick of me, but I want to tell you something. You — you aren’t married, are you? Then perhaps you won’t...But it doesn’t matter. I’ve got to tell some one. I can’t go on any longer like this.’
In a minute,’ she said. ‘You — you know about these graves of mine I was telling you about downstairs, just now! They really are commissions. At least several of them are.’ Her eye wandered round the room. ‘What extraordinary wall-papers they have in Belgium, don’t you think?...Yes. I swear they are commissions. But there’s one, d’you see, and — and he was more to me than anything else in the world. Do you understand?’
‘Because I’m so tired of lying. Tired of lying — always lying — year in and year out. When I don’t tell lies I’ve got to act ’em and I’ve got to think ’em, always. You don’t know what that means. He was everything to me that he oughtn’t to have been — the one real thing — the only thing that ever happened to me in all my life; and I’ve had to pretend he wasn’t. I’ve had to watch every word I said, and think out what lie I’d tell next, for years and years!’
‘Six years and four months before, and two and three-quarters after. I’ve gone to him eight times, since. Tomorrow’ll make the ninth, and — and I can’t — I can’t go to him again with nobody in the world knowing. I want to be honest with some one before I go. Do you understand! It doesn’t matter about me. I was never truthful, even as a girl. But it isn’t worthy of him. So I— I had to tell you. I can’t keep it up any longer. Oh, I can’t.’
She lifted her joined hands almost to the level of her mouth and brought them down sharply, still joined, to full arms’ length below her waist. Helen reached forward, caught them, bowed her head over them, and murmured: ‘Oh, my dear! My —’ Mrs Scarsworth stepped back, her face all mottled.
Next morning Mrs Scarsworth left early on her round of commissions, and Helen walked alone to Hagenzeele Third. The place was still in the making, and stood some five or feet above the metalled road, which it flanked for hundred yards. Culverts across a deep ditch served for entrances through the unfinished boundary wall. She climbed a few wooden-faced earthen steps and then met the entire crowded level of the thing in one held breath. She did not know Hagenzeele Third counted twenty-one thousand dead already. All she saw was a merciless sea of black crosses, bearing little strips of stamped tin at all angles across their faces. She could distinguish no order or arrangement in their mass; nothing but a waist-high wilderness as of weeds stricken dead, rushing at her. She went forward, moved to the left and the right hopelessly, wondering by what guidance she should ever come to her own. A great distance away there was a line of whiteness. It proved to be a block of some two or three hundred graves whose headstones had already been set, whose flowers planted out, and whose new-sown grass showed green. Here she could see clear-cut letters at the ends of the rows, referring to her slip, realized that it was not here she must look.
A man knelt behind a line of headstones — evidently a gardener, for he was firming a young plant in the soft earth. She went towards him, her paper in her hand. He rose at her approach and without prelude or salutation asked: ‘Who are you looking for?’