Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Part one

Chapter 1

HE lay staring at the withy binders of his thatch; the grass was infinitely green; his view embraced four counties; the roof was supported by six small oak sapling-trunks, roughly trimmed and brushed from above by apple boughs. French crab-apple! The hut had no sides.

The Italian proverb says: He who allows the boughs of trees to spread above his roof, invites the doctor daily. Words to that effect. He would have grinned, but that might have been seen.

For a man who never moved, his face was singularly walnut-coloured; his head, indenting the skim-milk white of the pillows should have been a gipsy’s, the dark, silvered hair cut extremely close, the whole face very carefully shaven and completely immobile. The eyes moved, however, with unusual, vivacity, all the life of the man being concentrated in them and their lids.

Down the path that had been cut in swathes from the knee-high grass, and came from the stable to the hut, a heavy elderly peasant rolled in his gait.

His over-long, hairy arms swung as if he needed an axe or a log or a full sack to make him a complete man. He was broad-beamed, in cord breeches, very tight in the buttock; he were black leggings, an unbuttoned blue waistcoat, a striped flannel shirt, open at the perspiring neck, and a square, high hat of black felt.

He said:

“Want to be shifted?”

The man in the bed closed his eyelids slowly.

“Ave a droper cider?”

The other again similarly closed his eyes. The standing man supported himself with an immense hand, gorilla-like, by one of the oaken posts.

“Best droper cider ever I tasted,” he said. “Is Lordship give me. Is Lordship sester me: ‘Gunning,’ e ses, . . . ‘the day the vixen got into keeper’s coop enclosure . . .’”

He began and slowly completed a very long story, going to prove that English noble landlords preferred foxes to pheasants. Or should! English landowners of the right sort.

Is Lordship would no more ave that vixen killed or so much as flurried, she being gravid like than. . . . Dreadful work a gravid vixen can do among encoops with pheasant poults. . . . Have to eat fer six or seven, she have! All a-growing. . . . So is Lordship sester Gunning. . . .

And then the description of the cider . . . Ard! Thet cider was arder than a miser’s art or’n ole maid’s tongue. Body it ad. Strength it ad. Stans to reason. Ten year cider. Not a drop was drunk in Lordship’s ouse under ten years in cask. Killed three sheep at week fer his indoor and outdoor servants. An three hundred pigeons. The pigeon-cotes is a hundred feet high, an the pigeons’ nesteses in oles in the inside walls. Clap-nests a ole wall at a go an takes the squabs. Times is not what they Was, but is Lordship keeps on. An always will!

The man in the bed — Mark Tietjens — continued his own thought.

Old Gunning lumbered slowly up the path towards the stable, his hands swinging. The stable was a tile-healed, thatched affair, no real stable in the North Country sense — a place where the old mare sheltered among chickens and ducks. There was no tidiness amongst South Country folk. They hadn’t it in them, though Gunning could bind a tidy thatch and trim a hedge properly. All-round man. Really an all-round man; he could do a great many things. He knew all about fox-hunting, pheasant-rearing, wood-craft, hedging, dyking, pig-rearing and the habits of King Edward when shooting. Smoking endless great cigars! One finished, light another, throw away the stub. . . . ’

Fox-hunting, the sport of kings with only twenty per cent. of the danger of war! He, Mark Tietjens, had never cared for hunting; now he would never do any more; he had never cared for pheasant-shooting. He would never do any more. Not couldn’t; wouldn’t. From henceforth. . . . It annoyed him that he had not taken the trouble to ascertain what it was Iago said, before he had taken Iago’s resolution. . . . From henceforth he never would speak word. . . . Something to that effect: but you could not get that into a blank verse line.

Perhaps Iago had not been speaking blank verse when he had taken his, Mark Tietjens’, resolution. . . . Took by the throat the circumciséd dog and smote him. . . . Good man, Shakespeare! All-round man in a way, too. Probably very like Gunning. Knew Queen Elizabeth’s habits when hunting; also very likely how to hedge, thatch, break up a deer or a hare or a hog, and how to serve a writ and write bad French. Lodged with a French family in Crutched Friars or the Minories. Somewhere.

The ducks were making a great noise on the pond up the hill. Old Gunning in the sunlight lumbered between the stable-wall and the raspberry canes, up-hill. The garden was all up-hill. He looked across the grass up at the hedge. When they turned him round he looked down-hill at the house. Rough, grey stone!

Half-round, he looked across the famous four counties; half round, the other way on, he could see up the grass-slope to the hedge on the road-side. Now he was looking up-hill across the tops of the hay-grass, over the raspberry canes at the hedge that Gunning was going to trim. Full of consideration for him, they were, all the lot of them. For ever thinking of developing his possible interests. He didn’t need it. He had interests enough.

Up the pathway that was above and beyond the hedge on a grass-slope went the Elliott children, a lanky girl of ten, with very long, corn-coloured hair, a fat boy of five, unspeakably dirty. The girl too long and thin in the legs and ankles, her hair limp. War-starvation in early years. . . . Well, that was not his’fault. He had given the nation the transport it needed; they should have found the stuff. They hadn’t, so the children had long, thin legs and protruding wrists on pipe-stem arms. All that generation! . . . No fault of his. He had managed the nation’s transport as it should be managed. His department had. His own Department, made by himself from junior temporary clerk to senior permanent official, from the day of his entrance thirty-five years before to the day of his resolution never more to speak word.

Nor yet stir a finger. He had to be in this world, in this nation. Let them care for him; he was done with them. . . . He knew the sire and dam of every horse from Eclipse to Perlmutter. That was enough for him. They let him read all that could be read about racing. He had interests enough!

The ducks on the pond up the hill continued to make a great noise, churning boisterously the water with their wings and squawking. If they had been hens there would have been something the matter — a dog chasing them. Ducks did not signify; they went mad, contagiously. Like nations and all the cattle of a county.

Gunning, lumbering past the raspberry canes, took a bud or so and squeezed the pale things between finger and thumb, then examined his thumb. Looking for maggots, no doubt. Pale green leaves the raspberry had; a fragile plant amongst the robuster rosaceae. That was not war-starvation but race. Their commissariat was efficient enough, but they were presumably not gross feeders. Gunning began to brush the hedge, sharp, brushing blows with his baggin hook. There was still far too much bramble amongst the quickset; in a week the hedge would be unsightly again.

That was part of their consideration again! They kept the hedge low so that he should be amused by passers-by on the path, though they would have preferred to let it grow high so that the passers-by should not see into the orchard. . . . Well, he had seen passers-by. More than they knew. . . . What the hell was Sylvia’s game? And that old ass Edward Campion’s? . . . Well, be was not going to interfere. There was, however, undoubtedly something up! . . . Marie Léonie — formerly Charlotte! — knew neither of them by sight, though she had undoubtedly seen them peering over the hedge!

They — it was more of their considerateness — had contrived a shelf on the left corner-post of his shelter. So that birds should amuse him! A hedge-sparrow, noiseless and quaker-grey, ghost-like, was on this shelf. A thin, under-vitalized being that you never saw. It flitted, hiding itself deep in hedge-rows. He had always thought of it as an American bird: a voiceless nightingale, thin, long, thin-billed, almost without markings as becomes a bird that seldom sees the sun but lives in the twilight of deep hedges. American because it ought to wear a scarlet letter. He only knew of Americans because of a book he had once read — a woman like a hedge-sparrow, creeping furtive in shadows and getting into trouble with a priest.

This desultory, slim bird, obviously Puritan, inserted its thin bill into the dripping that Gunning had put on the shelf for the tom-tits. The riotous tom-tit, the bottle-tit, the great-tit, all that family love dripping. The hedge-sparrow obviously did not; the dripping on that warmish June day had become oleaginous; the hedge-sparrow, its bill all greased, mumbled its upper and lower mandible but took no more dripping. It looked at Mark’s eyes. Because these regarded it motionlessly, it uttered a long warning note and flitted, noiseless, into invisibility. All hedge things ignore you whilst you move on and do not regard them. The moment you stay still and fix your eyes on them they warn the rest of the hedge and flit off. This hedge-sparrow no doubt had its young within earshot. Or the warning might have been just cooperative.

Marie Léonie, née Riotor, was coming up the steps and then the path. He could hear her breathing. She stood beside him, shapeless in her long pinafore of figured cotton, and breathed heavily, holding a plate of soup and saying:

Mon pauvre homme! Mon pauvre homme! Ce qu’ils ont fait de toi!

She began a breathless discourse in French. She was of the large, blond, Norman type; in the middle forties, her extremely fair hair very voluminous and noticeable. She had lived with Mark Tietjens for twenty years now, but she had always refused to speak a word of English, having an invincible scorn for both language and people of her adopted country.

Her discourse poured on. She had set the little tray with the plate of reddish-yellowish soup on a flat shelf of wood that turned out on a screw from underneath the bed‘; in the soup was a shining clinical thermometer that she moved and regarded from time to time, beside the plate a glass syringe, graduated. She said that Ils — they — had combined to render her soup of vegetables uneatable. They would not give her most::1: Pan’: but round ones, like buttons; they contrived that the carrots should be pauvre at their bottom ends; the leeks were of the consistency of wood. They were determined that he should not have vegetable soup because they wanted him to have meat juice. They were anthropophagi. Nothing but meat, meat, meat! That girl! . . .

She had always in the Gray’s Inn Road had Paris turnips from Jacopo’s in Old Compton Street. There was no reason why you should not grow mwets de Paris in this soil. The Paris turnip was barrel-shaped, round, round, round like an adorable little pig till it turned into its funny little tail. That was a turnip to amuse you; to change and employ your thoughts. Ils — he and she — were incapable of having their thoughts changed by a turnip.

Between sentences she ejaculated from time to time:

“My poor man! What they have made of you!”

Her volubility flowed over Mark like a rush of water over a grating, only a phrase or so now and then coming to his attention. It was not unpleasant; he liked his woman. She had a cat that she made abstain from meat on Friday. In the Gray’s Inn Road that had been easier, in a large room decorated with innumerable miniatures and silhouettes representing members of the Riotor family and its branches. Mme Riotor mére and Mme Riotor grand’mére too had been miniature painters, and Marie Léonie possessed some astonishingly white statuary by the distinguished sculptor Monsieur Casimir–Bar, a lifelong friend of her family who had only never been decorated because of a conspiracy. So he had a great contempt for decorations and the decorated. Marie Léonie had been accustomed to repeat the voluminous opinions of Monsieur Casimir–Bar on the subject of decorations at great length on occasion. Since he, Mark, had been honoured by his sovereign she had less frequently recited them. She admitted that the democracy of today had not the sterling value that had distinguished democrats of the day of her parents, so it might be better to carer oneself — to find a niche amongst those whom the State distinguished.

The noise of her voice, which was deep-chested and not unpleasing, went on. Mark regarded her with the ironic indulgence that you accord to a child, but indeed, when he had been still in harness, it had rested him always to come home to her as he had done every Thursday and Monday, and not infrequently on a Wednesday when there had been no racing. It had rested him to come home from a world of incompetent imbeciles and to hear this brain comment on that world. She had views on virtue, pride, downfalls, human careers, the habits of cats, fish, the clergy, diplomats, soldiers, women of easy virtue, Saint Eustachius, President Grévy, the purveyors of comestibles, custom-house officers, pharmacists, Lyons silk weavers, the keepers of boarding-houses, garotters, chocolate-manufacturers, sculptors other than M. Casimir–Bar, the lovers of married women, housemaids. . . .

Her mind, in fact, was like a cupboard, stuffed, packed with the most incongruous materials, tools, vessels and debris. Once the door was opened you never knew what would tumble out or be followed by what. That was restful to Mark as foreign travel might have been — only he had never been abroad except when his father, before his accession to Groby, had lived in Dijon for his children’s education. That was how he knew French.

Her conversation had another quality that continually amused him: she always ended it with the topic with which she had chosen to begin. Thus, today having chosen to begin with newt: de Paris, with Paris turnips she would end, and it amused him to observe how on each occasion she would bring the topic back. She might be concluding a long comment on ironclads and have to get back suddenly to custards because the door-bell rang while her maid was out, but accomplish the transition she would before she answered the bell. Otherwise she was frugal, shrewd, astonishingly cleanly and healthy.

Whilst she was giving him his soup, inserting the glass syringe in his lips at half minute intervals which she timed by her wrist-watch, she was talking about furniture. . . . Ils would not let her apply to the species of rabbit-hutches in the salon a varnish that she imported from Paris; Monsieur her brother-in-law had really exhibited when she had actually varnished a truly discreditable chair — had exhibited a distraction that had really filled her with amusement. It was possible that the fashion of the day was for furniture of decrepitude, or gross forms. That they would not let her place in the salon the newly-gilt arm-chair of her late mother or the sculptural group representing Niobe and some of her offspring by the late Monsieur Casimir–Bar, or the overmantel clock that was an exact reproduction in bronze of the Fountain of the Médicis in the gardens of the Luxembourg at Paris — that was a matter of taste. Elle might very well feel umbrage that she, Marie Léonie, should possess articles of such acknowledged prestige. For what could be more unapproachable than a Second Empire fauteuil newly gilt and maintained, she could assure the world, at such a pitch of glitter as dazzled the eyes? Elle might very well feel umbrage when you considered that the skirt that she wore when gardening was . . . Well, in short was what it was! Nevertheless, in that skirt she allowed herself to be seen by the clergyman. But why did I, who was admittedly a man of honour and sensibility and reputed to know all the things of this world and perhaps of the next — why did He join in the infinitely stupid conspiracy against the work of the great genius Casimir-Bar? She, Marie Léonie, could understand that He, in his difficult situation, would not wish to give permission to install in the salon works at which Elle took umbrage because her possessions did not include objects of art which all the world acknowledged to be of classic rank, not to mention the string of pearls which she, Marie Léonie, Riotor by birth, owed to the generosity of him, Mark, and her own economies. And other objects of value and taste. That was reasonable. If your woman is poorly doted . . . Let us call it doted . . . because certainly she, Marie Léonie, was not one to animadvert upon those in situations of difficulty. . . . It would ill become her so to do. Nevertheless, a great period of years of honesty, frugality, regularity of life and cleanliness. . . . And she asked Mark if he had ever seen in bar parlour traces of mud such as on wet days she had certainly observed in the salon of a certain person. . . . And certain revelations she could make as to the condition of a cupboard under the stairs and the state to be observed behind certain presses in the kitchen. But if you have not had experience in the control of domestics, what would you? . . . Nevertheless, a stretch of years passed in the state of housewifeliness such as she had already adumbrated upon gave one the right to comment — of course with delicacy — upon the ménage of a young person even though her delicate situation might avert from her comment of an unchristian nature as to certain other facts. It did, however, seem to her, Marie Leonie, that to appear before a clergyman in a skirt decorated with no less than three visible taches of petrol, wearing gloves encrusted with mud as you encrust a truffle with paste before baking it under the cinders — and holding, of all implements, a common gardening-trowel. . . . And to laugh and joke with him! . . . Surely the situation called for a certain — let them call it, retirement of demeanour. She was far from according to the Priest as such the extravagant privileges to which he laid claim. The late Monsieur Casimir — Bar was accustomed to say that, if we accorded to our soi-disant spiritual advisers all that they would take, we should lie upon a bed that had neither sheets, eidredons, pillows, bolsters, nor settle. And she, Marie Léonie, was inclined to agree with Monsieur Casimir–Bar, though, as one of the heroes of the barricades in 1848, he was apt to be a little extreme in his tenets. Still a vicar is in England a functionary of the State and as such should be received with a certain modesty and reserve. Yet she, Marie Léonie, formerly Riotor, her mother having been born Lavigne — Bourdreau and having in consequence a suspicion of Huguenot blood, so that she, Marie Léonie, might be expected to know how the Protestant clergy should be received — she then, Marie Léonie, from the little window on the side of the stairs, had distinctly seen Elle lay one hand on the shoulder of that clergyman and point — point, mind you, with the trowel— to the open front door and say — she had distinctly heard the words: “Poor man, if you have hunger you will find Mr. Tietjens in the dining-room. He is just eating a sandwich. It’s hungry weather!” . . . That was six months ago, but Marie Léonie’s ears still tingled at the words and the gesture. A trowel! To point with a trowel; pensez y! If a trowel why not a main de fer, a dust-pan? Or a vessel even more homely! . . . And Marie Léonie chuckled.

Her grandmother Bourdreau remembered a crockery-merchant of the ambulating sort who had once filled one of those implements — a vase de nuit — but of course new, with milk and had offered the whole gratuitously to any passer-by who would drink the milk. A young woman called Laborde accepted his challenge there in the market-place of Noisy–Lebrun. She had lost her fiance, who found the gesture exaggerated. But he was a farceur, that crockery-dealer!

She drew from the pocket of her pinafore several folded pages of a newspaper and from under the bed a double picture-frame — two frames hinged together so that they would close. She inserted a sheet of the paper between the two frames and then hung the whole on a piece of picture wire that depended from the roof-tree beneath the thatch. Two braces of picture-wire, too, came from the supporting posts, to right and left. They held the picture — frames motionless and a little inclined towards Mark’s face. She was agreeable to look at, stretching up her arms. She lifted his torso with great strength and infinite solicitude, propped it a little with the pillows and looked to see that his eyes fell on the printed sheet. She said:

“You can see well, like that?”

His eyes took in the fact that he was to read of the Newbury Summer Meeting and the one at Newcastle. He closed them twice to signify Yes! The tears came into hers. She murmured:

“Mon pauvre homme! Mon pauvre homme! What they have done to you!” She drew from another pocket in her pinafore a flask of eau-de-Cologne and a wad of cotton wool. With that, moistened, she wiped even more solicitously his face and then his thin, mahogany hands, which she uncovered. She had the air of women in France when they change the white satin clothes and wash the faces of favourite Virgins at the church doors in August.

Then she stood back and apostrophized him. He took in that the King’s filly had won the Berkshire Foal plate and the horse of a friend the Seaton Delaval Handicap, at Newcastle. Both might have been expected. He had meant to go to the Newcastle meeting this year and give Newbury a by. The last year he had gone racing he had done rather well at Newbury, so he had then thought he would try Newcastle for a change, and, whilst he was there, take a look at Groby and see what that bitch Sylvia was doing with Groby. Well, that was done with. They would presumably bury him at Groby.

She said in deep, rehearsed tones:

“My Man!”— she might almost have well said: “My Deity!”—“What sort of life is this we lead here? Was there ever anything so singular and unreasonable? If we sit to drink a cup of tea, the cup may at any moment be snatched from our mouths; if we recline upon a divan — at any moment the divan may go. I do not comment on this that you lie by night as by day for ever here in the open air, for I understand that it is by your desire and consent that you lie here and I will never exhibit aversion from that which you desire and that to which you consent. But cannot you bring it about that we should inhabit a house of some reason, one more suited to human beings of this age, and one that is less of a procession of goods and chattels? You can bring that about. You are all-powerful here. I do not know what are your resources. It was never your habit to tell me. You kept me in comfort. Never did I express a desire that you did not satisfy, though it is true that my desires were always reasonable. So I know nothing, though I read once in a paper that you were a man of extravagant riches, and that can hardly all have vanished, for there can have been fewer men of as great a frugality, and you were always fortunate and moderate in your wagers. Sol know nothing and I would scorn to ask of these others, for that would imply doubt of your trust in me. I do not doubt that you have made arrangements for my future comfort, and I am in no uncertainty of the continuance of those arrangements. It is not material fears that I have. But all this appears to be a madness. Why are we here? What is the meaning of all this? Why do you inhabit this singular erection? It may be that the open air is of necessity for your malady. I do not believe that you lived in perpetual currents of air in your chambers, though I never saw them. But on the days you gave to me you had everything of the most comfortable and you seemed contented with my arrangements. And your brother and his Woman appear so mad in all the other affairs of life that they may well be mad in this also. Why then will you not end it? You have the power. You are all-powerful here. Your brother will spring from one corner to the other of this lugubrious place in order to anticipate your slightest wish. Elle, too!”

Stretching out her hands, she had the air of a Greek woman who invoked a deity, she was so large and fair and her hair was so luxuriantly blond. And indeed, to her, in his mystery and silence he had the air of a deity who could discharge unthinkable darts and vouchsafe unimaginable favours. Though all their circumstances had changed, that had not changed, so that even his immobility enhanced his mystery. In all their life together, not merely here, he had been silent whilst she had talked. On the two regular days of the week on which he had been used to visit her, from the moment when she would open her door exactly at seven in the evening and see him in his bowler hat with his carefully rolled umbrella and with his racing glasses slung diagonally across him to the moment when, next morning at half — past ten, she would brush his bowler and hand him that and his umbrella, he would hardly speak a word — he would speak such few words as to give the idea of an absolute taciturnity, whilst she entertained him with an unceasing flow of talk and of comments on the news of the Quartier — of the French colonists of that part of London, or on the news in the French papers. He would remain seated on a hard chair, bending slightly forward, with, round the corners of his mouth, little creases that suggested an endless, indulgent smile. Occasionally he would suggest that she should put half a sovereign upon a horse; occasionally he would bring her an opulent present, heavy gold bangles floridly chased and set with large emeralds, sumptuous furs, expensive travelling trunks for when she had visited Paris or went to the seaside in the autumn. That sort of thing. Once he had bought her a complete set of the works of Victor Hugo bound in purple morocco and all the works that had been illustrated by Gustave Doré, in green calf; once a hoof of a racehorse, trained in France, set in silver in the form of an inkstand. On her forty — first birthday — though she had no idea how he had ascertained that it was her forty-first birthday — he had given her a string of pearls and had taken her to a hotel at Brighton kept by an ex-prize-fighter. He had told her to wear the pearls at dinner, but to be careful of them because they had cost five hundred pounds. He asked her once about her investment of her saving, and when she had told him that she was investing in French rentes viagères he had told her that he could do better than that for her, and afterwards from time to time he had told her of odd but very profitable ways of investing small sums.

In this way, because his gifts filled her with rapture on account of their opulence and weightiness, he had assumed for her the aspect by degrees of a godhead who could bless — and possibly blast — inscrutably. For many years after he had first picked her up in the Edgware Road outside the old Apollo she had regarded him with suspicion, since he was a man and it is the nature of men to treat women with treachery, lust and meanness. Now she regarded herself as the companion of a godhead, secure and immune from the evil workings of Fortune — as if she had been seated on the shoulder of one of Jove’s eagles, beside his throne. The Immortals had been known to choose human companions: when they had so done fortunate indeed had been the lot of the chosen. Of them she felt herself to be one.

Even his seizure had not deprived her of her sense of his wide-spreading and inscrutable powers, and she could not rid herself of the conviction that if he would, he could talk, walk and perform the feats of strength of a Hercules. It was impossible not to think so; the strength of his glance was undiminished, and it was the dark glance of a man, proud, vigorous, alert and commanding. And the mysterious nature and occurrence of the seizure itself only confirmed her subconscious conviction. The fit had come so undramatically that although the several pompous and, for her, nearly imbecile, English physicians who had been called in to attend on him, agreed that some sort of fit must have visited him as he lay in his bed, that had done nothing to change her mind. Indeed, even when her own Doctor, Drouant–Rouault, asserted with certitude and knowledge that this was a case of fulminant hemiplegia of a characteristic sort, though her reason accepted his conclusion, her subconscious intuition remained the same. Doctor Drouant–Rouault was a sensible man; that he had proved by pointing out the anatomical excellence of the works of sculpture by Monsieur Casimir–Bar and agreeing that only a conspiracy of rivals could have prevented his arriving at the post of President of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He was, then, a man of sense and his reputation amongst the French tradesmen of the Quarter stood very high: she had never herself needed the attentions of a doctor. But if you needed a doctor, obviously you went to a Frenchman and acquiesced in what he said.

But although she acquiesced in words to others, and indeed to herself, she could not convince herself in her for intérieur, nor indeed had she arrived at that amount of exterior conviction without some argument at least. She had pointed out, not only to Doctor Drouant–Rouault, but she had even conceived it to be her duty to point out to the English practitioners to whom she would not otherwise have spoken, that the man lying there in her bed was a North-countryman, from Yorkshire, where men were of an inconceivable obstinacy. She had asked them to consider that it was not unusual for Yorkshire brothers and sisters or other relatives to live for decades together in the same house and never address a word to each other, and she had pointed out that she knew Mark Tietjens to be of an unspeakable determination. She knew it from their lifelong intimacy. She had never, for instance, been able to make him change his diet by an ounce in weight, or the shaking of a pepper — pot as to flavour — not once in twenty years during which she had cooked for him. She pleaded with these gentlemen to consider as a possibility that the terms of the Armistice were of such a nature as to make a person of Mark’s determination and idiosyncrasies resolve to withdraw himself for ever from all human contacts, and that if he did so determine nothing would cause him to change his determination. The last word he had spoken had been whilst one of his colleagues at the Ministry had been telephoning to tell her, for Mark’s information, what the terms of the Armistice were. At the news, which she had had to give him over her shoulder, he had made from the bed some remark. — He had been recovering from double pneumonia at the time. — What the remark had been she could not exactly repeat; she was almost certain that it had been to the effect — in English — that he would never speak again. But she was aware that her own predilection was sufficient to bias her hearing. She had felt herself, at the news that the Allies did not intend to pursue the Germans into their own country — she had felt herself as if she could say to the High Permanent Official at the other end of the telephone that she would never speak word to him and his race again. It was the first thing that had come into her mind, and no doubt it had been the first thing to come into Mark’s.

So she had pleaded with the doctors. They had paid practically no attention to her, and she was aware that that was very likely due to her ambiguous position as the companion for long, without any legal security, of a man whom they considered as now in no position to continue his protection of her. That she in no way resented; it was in the nature of English male humanity. The Frenchman had naturally listened with deference, bowing even a little. But he had remarked with a sort of deaf obstinacy: Madame must consider that the occasion of the stroke only made more certain that it was a stroke. And that argument to her, as Frenchwoman, must seem almost incontrovertible. For the betrayal of France by her Allies at the supreme moment of triumph had been a crime, the news of which might well cause the end of the world to seem desirable.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06