Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 2

SHE continued to stand beside him and to apostrophize him until it should be time to turn round the framed newspaper so that he could read the other side of the sheet. What he read first contained the remarks of various writers on racing. That he took in rapidly, as if it were a mere bonne bouche. She knew that he regarded with contempt the opinions of all writers on racing, but the two who wrote in this particular sheet with less contempt than the others. But the serious reading began when she turned the page. Here were endless, serried columns of the names of race-horses, their jockeys and entrants at various race-meetings, their ages, ancestries, former achievements. That he would peruse with minute attention that would cost him just under an hour. She would have liked to stay with him whilst he read it, for the intensive study of matters connected with race-horses had always been their single topic of communion. She had spent almost sentimental hours leaning over the back of his arm-chair reading news of the turf simultaneously with himself, and the compliments he had been used to pay her over her predictions of Form, if they were the only compliments he ever paid her, had filled her with the warm pleasure and confusion that she might have felt had he addressed the same compliments to her on the subject of her person. She did not indeed need compliments from him as to her person; his complete contentment with her sufficed — but she had rejoiced in, and now missed, those long, quiet times of communing. She remarked to him indeed that Seattle had won her race as she had several days ago predicted because there had been no other competitors in any way of the same class as the filly, but there had been no answering, half-contemptuous grunt of acquiescence such as in the old days had been hers.

An aeroplane had droned overhead and she had stepped out to look up at the bright toy that, shone upon by the sun, progressed slowly across the pellucid sky. When she went in, in answer to the double closing of his lids that meant that he acquiesced in the turning of his news-sheet, she unhitched one brace from the oaken post to his right and, walking round his bed, attached the brace on the post to his left, doing the reverse with the brace that had gone to the left. In that way the picture-frames turned completely round and exhibited the other side of the newspaper-frame.

It was a contrivance that daily excited her annoyance and, as usual, she expressed herself. This was another instance of the madness of They — of her brother-in-law and his woman. Why had they not obtained one of those ingenious machines, like an arm of bright brass supporting a reading-shelf of agreeably varnished mahogany, that you clamped to a bedstead and could adjust at any angle? Why indeed had They not procured one of those huts for the tuberculous that she had seen depicted in a catalogue. Such huts could be painted in agreeable stripes of green and vermilion, thus presenting a gay appearance, and they could be turned upon a pivot so as to meet the rays of the sun or avoid the currents of air caused by the wind? What could be the explanation of this mad and gross structure? A thatched roof supported on posts without walls? Did they desire him to be blown out of his bed by the draughts? Did They merely desire to enrage her? Or could it be that their resources were of such exiguity that they could not afford the conveniences of modern civilization?

She might well have thought that to be the case. But how could it, in face of the singular behaviour of Monsieur her beau-frére in the matter of the statuary of Casimir–Bar the great sculptor. She had offered to contribute to the expenses of the establishment even at the cost of the sacrifice of what she held most dear, and how singular had been his behaviour. During their absence on the occasion of the great sale at Wingham Priory she had ordered the amiable if gross Gunning and the semi-imbecile carpenter to descend from her room to the salon that admirable Niob: and the admittedly incomparable Tbeti: informing Neptune of the death of a Son-in-law, not to mention her newly regilt Second Empire fauteuil. And in that gloomy wilderness how had they not shone in their respective whiteness and auriference! The pose of the Niobe how passionate, the action of the Tbeti: how spirited and how at the same time pathetic! And she had seized the opportunity to varnish with a special preparation imported from the City of the Arts the only chair in the salon that was not too rough to be susceptible of varnish even though it came from Paris herself. A clumsy affair at that — of the epoch of Louis the Thirteenth of France, though heaven knew whose epoch that was here. Without doubt that of Cromwell the regicide!

And Monsieur must needs seize ‘the moment of his entry on this thus enlivened scene to exhibit the only display of emotion that she had ever known him vouchsafe. For otherwise Monsieur had the pose of being at least as self-contained if not as absolutely taciturn as Mark himself. She asked Mark: was that the moment for what was after all if you analysed it a manifestation of attachment for his young woman? What else could it be? ll — Monsieur their relative, passed for a man of unbounded knowledge. He knew all knowledge. He could not but be aware of the supreme value of the work of Casimir–Bar who, but for the machinations of his rival Monsieur Rodin and his confréres, must have attained to the highest honours in France. But not only had Monsieur with hisses and tut-tuts of anger ordered Gunning and the carpenter at once to remove the statuary and the fauteuil from the salon where she had exhibited them — with heaven knew how much reluctance — with a view to their attracting the attention of a chance customer — for chance customers did come in Their absence without rendezvous. . . . Not only that, but Monsieur, to gratify the perhaps not unnatural envy of Elle, had cast meretricious doubts on the pecuniary value of the works of Casimir–Bar them-selves. Every one knew how the Americans today were stripping the unfortunate land of France of her choicest art treasures; the enormous prices they paid; the avidity they showed. Yet that man had tried to persuade her that her statues were worth no more than a few shillings apiece. It was incomprehensible. He was in want of money to the extent of turning their house into a mere depot for dilapidated objects in rough wood and battered brass. He had contrived to obtain singular prices for these forlorn objects from insane Yankees who came great distances to purchase these debris from him. Yet when he was offered pieces of the utmost beauty in the most perfect condition he just simply turned the objects down with scoffing.

For herself, she respected passion — though she could have imagined an object of passion more calculated to excite that feeling than Elle, whom for convenience she would call her ball:— mar. She at least was broad-minded, and moreover she understood the workings of the human heart. It was creditable for a man to ruin himself for the object of his affections. But this at least she found exaggerated.

And what, then, was this determination to ignore the developments of modern genius? Why would they not purchase for Mark a reading-desk with a brass arm that should indicate to the neighbours and dependents that at least he was a person of condition? Why no revolving hut? There were certain symptoms of that age that were disquieting.

She would be the first to acknowledge that. They ’ had only to read in the papers of the deeds of assassins, highway robbers, of the subversive and the ignorant who everywhere seized the reins of power. But what was to be said against such innocent things as the reading — desk, the revolving hut and the aeroplane. Yes, the aeroplane!

Why did they ignore the aeroplane? They had told her that the reason why they had been unable to provide her with nawt: dt Pari: was that the season was becoming too advanced for the sowing of the seeds of those admirable and amusing vegetables which, seen advancing through the pale electric lights of the early hours of the morning, piled symmetrically as high as the first floors of the hotels, on the market-carts, provided one of the gayest spectacles of the night-life of la Ville Lumiére. They had said that to procure the seeds from Paris would demand at least a month. But supposing they had sent a letter by aeroplane, requesting the dispatch of the seeds equally by aeroplane, to procure them, as all the world knew, would be a matter merely of a few hours. And, having thus brought the matter back to turnips again, she concluded:

“Yes, mon pauvre homme, they have singular natures, our relatives — for I will include the young woman in that category. I, at least, am broad-minded enough for that. But they have singular natures. It is a singular affair!”‘

She departed up the path towards the stable, speculating on the nature of her man’s relatives. They were the relatives of a godhead —«but god-heads had relatives of a singular nature. Let Mark figure as Jupiter; well, Jupiter had a son called Apollo who could not be regarded as exactly fis de famille. His adventures had been of the most irregular. Was it not known that he had spent a long space of time with the shepherds of King Admetus, singing and carousing? Well, Monsieur Tietjens might for convenience be regarded as a sort of Apollo, now amongst the shepherds of Admetus and complete with female companion. If he did not often sing, he also concealed the tendencies that had brought about his downfall. He was quiet enough about the house, extraordinary as the house might be. Elle also. If their relationship was irregular it presented no aspects of reprehensible festivity. It was a sufficiently serious tollagt. That at least ran in the family.

She came round the rough balks of the side of the stable upon Gunning, seated on the stone — sill of the door, cutting with a broad-bladed clasp-knife considerable chunks out of a large meat pasty. She surveyed his extended leggings, his immense bemired boots and his unshaven countenance and remarked in French that the shepherds of Admetus were probably differently dressed. They certainly were in all the performances of the Altai: that she had seen. But perhaps he served his turn.

Gunning said that he supposed he had to go on duty again. She, he supposed, was going to bottle off the cider or she would not have had him bring down that ere cask. She was to be careful to tie the carks tight; it would get itself a ed proper.

She said that if she, a Norman of a hundred generations, did not know how to handle cider it would be a strange thing, and he said that it would be a pity if that cider went wrong after all the trouble they ad ad.

He brushed the crumbs of his demolished pie off the cords of his breeches, carefully picking up the larger fragments of crust and inserting them into his month between his broad red lips. He asked if er Ladyship knew whether the Cahptn wanted the mare that afternoon. If not e might ’s well turn er on the Common. She said that she did not know; the Captain had said nothing to her about it. He said he supposed e might ’s well. Cramp said e would not have the settee ready to go to the station fore mornin. If she would wait there he would go git some tepid water and they would moisten the eggs. She did not ask better.

He scrambled to his feet and lumbered down the stone path towards the house. She stood in the bright day regarding the long grass of the orchard, the gnarled, whitened trunks of the fruit trees, the little lettuces like aligned rosettes in the beds, and the slope of the land towards the old stones of the house that the boughs of the apple — trees mostly hid. And she acknowledged that, in effect, she did not ask better. A Norman, if Mark had died in the ordinary course, she would no doubt have gone back to the neighbourhood either of Falaise or Bayeux, from which places came the families of her grand-father and grand-mother respectively. She would probably have married a rich farmer or a rich grazier, and, by choice, she would have pursued a life of bottling off cider and moistening the eggs of sitting hens. She had had her training as a coryphée at the Paris opera, and no doubt if she had not made her visit to London with the Paris opera troupe and if Mark had not picked her up in the Edgware Road where her lodgings had been, she would have lived similarly with some man in Clichy or Auteuil until with her economies she would have been able, equally, to retire to one or other of the pays of her families, and marry a farmer, a butcher, or a grazier. She acknowledged, for the matter of that, that she would probably not have raised more succulent poulets au grain or more full-bodied cider than came from the nest-boxes and the presses here, and that she was leading no other life than that which she had always contemplated. Nor, indeed, would she have wanted any other henchman than Gunning who, if you had given him a blue blouse with stitchery and a casquette with a black leather peak, would have passed for any peasant in Caen market.

He swung up the path, carrying gingerly a large blue bowl, just as if his blouse bellied out round him; he had the same expression of the mouth; the same intonation. It was nothing that she obstinately spoke French to him. On his subjects he could tell by intuition what her answers to his questions were and she understood him well enough.

He said that he had better take the ens off the nesteses fer fear they peck er ands, and giving her the bowl, brought out from the shadows a protesting, ruffled and crooning hen, before which he dropped a handful of bran paste and a lettuce leaf. He came out with another and yet others. Then he said she could go in and sprinkle the eggs. He said that it always bothered him to turn the eggs; his clumsy ol ands bruk em ’s often as not. He said:

“Wait whilst I brings out ol mare. Bit o grass wunt do er much mischief.”

The hens, swollen to an enormous size, paraded hostilely against one another about her feet; they clucked; crooned; pecked at lumps of paste; drank water eagerly from an iron dog-trough. With an exaggerated clatter of hoofs old mare emerged from the stable. She was aged nineteen, obstinate, bitter, very dark bay, extremely raw-boned. You might fill her with oats and mash five times a day but she would not put on flesh. She emerged into the light from the door with the trot of a prima-donna, for she knew she had once been a famous creature. The hens fled; she bit into the air, showing immense teeth. Gunning opened the orchard gate, just at hand; she went out at a canter; checked; crumpled her knees together; fell on her side and rolled and rolled; her immense lean legs were incongruous, up in the air.

“Yes,” Marie Léonie said, “pour moi-meme je ne demanderais pas mieux ‘.”

Gunning remarked:

“Don’t show er age, do she? Gambolling like a five day lamb!” His voice was full of pride, his grey face joyful. Is Lordship once sed that ol mare had orter be put in the Orse Show up to Lunnon. Some yeers ago that was!

She went into the dark, warm, odorous depths of the hen-house — stable shed; the horse-box being divided off from the hen half by wire netting, nest-boxes, blankets extended on use-poles. She had to bend down to get into the hen-half. The cracks of light between the uprights of the walls blinked at her. She carried the bowl of tepid water gingerly, and thrust her hand into the warm hay hollows. The eggs were fever — heat or thereabouts; she turned them and sprinkled in the tepid water; thirteen, fourteen, fourteen, eleven — That hen was a breaker! — and fifteen. She emptied out the tepid water and from other nests took out egg after egg. The acquisition gratified her.

In an upper box a hen brooded low. It crooned menacingly, then screamed with the voice of poultry disaster as her hand approached it. The sympathetic voices of other hens outside came to her, screaming with poultry disaster — and other hens on the Common. A rooster crowed.

She repeated to herself that she did not demand a better life than this. But was it not self-indulgence to be so contented? Ought she not to be, still, taking steps for her future — near Falaise or Bayeux? Did one not owe that to oneself? How long would this life last here? And, still more, when it broke up, how would it break up? What would Il:— the strange people, do to her, her savings, her furs, trunks, pearls, turquoises, statuary, and newly-gilt Second Empire chairs and clocks? When the Sovereign died what did the Heir, his concubines, courtiers and sycophants do to the Maintenon of the day? What precautions ought she not to be taking against that wrath to come? There must be French lawyers in London. . . .

Was it to be thought that Il — Christopher Tietjens, clumsy, apparently slow — witted but actually gifted with the insight of the supernatural. . . . Gunning would say: The Captain, he never says anything, but who knows what he thinks? He perceives everything. . . . Was it to be thought then that, once Mark was dead and he actual owner of the place called Groby and the vast stretch of coal-bearing land that the newspaper had spoken of, Christopher Tietjens would maintain his benevolent and frugal dispositions of today? It was truly thinkable. But, just as he appeared slow — witted and was actually gifted with the insight of the supernatural, so he might well now maintain this aspect of despising wealth and yet develop into a true Harpagon as soon as he held the reins of power. The rich are noted for hardness of heart, and brother will prey upon brother’s widow sooner than on another. ’

So that, certainly, she ought to put herself under the protection of the Authorities. But then, what Authorities? The long arm of France would no doubt protect one of her nationals even in this remote and uncivilized land. But would it be possible to put that machinery in motion without the knowledge of Mark — and what dreadful steps might Mark not take in his wrath if he thought that she had set machinery in motion?

There appeared nothing for it but to wait, and that side of her nature being indolent, perhaps being alone indolent, she was aware that she was contented to wait. But was such a course right? Was it doing justice to herself or to France? For it is the duty of the French citizen, by industry, frugality and vigilance, to accumulate goods; and it was above all the duty of the French citizen to carry back accumulated hoards to that distressed country, stripped bare as she was by the perfidious Allies. She might herself rejoice in these circumstances, these grasses, orchards, poultry, cider-presses, vegetable-gardens — even if the turnips were not of the Paris Mott variety! She might not ask for better. But there might be a little pays, near Falaise, or, in the alternative, near Bayeux, a little spot that she might enrich with these spoils from the barbarians. If every inhabitant of a pay: in France did the same would not France again be prosperous, with all its clochers tolling out contentment across smiling acres? Well, then!

Standing gazing at the poultry, whilst Gunning with a hone smoothed out some notches from his baggin hook, previous to again going on duty, she began to reflect on the nature of Christopher Tietjens, for she desired to estimate what were her chances of retaining her furs, pearls and gilt articles of vertu. . . . By the orders of the doctor who attended daily on Mark — a dry, sandy, no doubt perfectly ignorant person — Mark was never to be left out of sight. He was of opinion, this doctor, that one day Mark might move — physically. And there might be great danger if ever he did move. The lesions, if lesions there were in his brain, might then be restarted with fatal effects. — Some such talk. So they must never let him out of their sight. For the night they had an alarm that was connected by a wire from his bed to hers. Hers was in a room that gave onto the orchard. If he so much as stirred in his bed the bell would ring in her ear. But indeed she rose every night, over and over again, to look from her window into his hut; a dim lantern illuminated his sheets. These arrangements appeared to her to be barbarous, but they met the views of Mark and she was thus in no position to question them. . . . So she had to wait whilst Gunning honed out his sickle-shaped, short-handled blade.

It had all then begun — all the calamities of the world had begun amidst the clamours and intoxications of that dreadful day. Of Christopher Tietjens till then she had known little or nothing. For the matter of that of Mark himself she had known little or nothing until a very few years ago. She had known neither his name, nor how he occupied himself, not yet where he lived. ‘It had not been her business to inquire, so she had never made inquiries. Then one day — after thirteen years — he had awakened one morning with an attack of bronchitis after a very wet Newmarket Craven Meeting. He had told her to go to his Office with a note addressed to his chief clerk. to ask for his letters and to tell them to send a messenger to his chambers to get some clothes and necessaries.

When she had told him that she did not know what his Office was nor where were his chambers, nor even his surname, he had grunted. He had expressed neither surprise nor gratification, but she knew that he had been gratified — probably with himself for having ‘chosen a woman companion who displayed no curiosity rather than with her for having displayed none. After that he had had a telephone installed in her rooms, and not infrequently he would stay later of a morning than had been his habit, letting a messenger from the Office bring letters or fetch documents that he had signed. When his father had died he had put her into mourning.

By that date, gradually, she had learned that he was Mark Tietjens of Groby, an immense estate somewhere in the North. He employed himself at an Office of the Government’s in Whitehall — apparently with questions of railways. She gathered, chiefly from ejaculations of the Messenger, that he treated his Ministry with contempt, but was regarded as so indispensable that he never lost his post. Occasionally, the Office would ring up and ask her if she knew where he was. She would gather from the papers afterwards that that was because there had been a great railway accident. On those occasions he would have been absent at a race — meeting. He gave the Office, in fact, just as much of his time as he chose, no more and no less. She gathered that, with his overpowering wealth, it was of no account to him except as an occupation of leisure time between meetings, and she gathered that he was regarded as an occult power amongst the rulers of the nation. Once, during the War when he had hurt his hand, he dictated to her a note of a confidential nature to one of the Cabinet Ministers. It had concerned itself with Transport and its tone had been that of singular, polite contempt.

For her he was in no way astonishing. He was the English Milor with le Spleen. She had read of him in the novels of Alexander Dumas, Paul de Kock, Eugene Sue and Ponson du Terrail. He represented the England that the Continent applauded — the only England that the Continent applauded. Silent, obstinate, inscrutable, insolent but immensely wealthy and uncontrollably generous. For herself, elle ne demandait pas mieux. For there was about him nothing of the unexpected. He was as regular as the Westminster Chimes; he never exacted the unexpected of her and he was all-powerful and never in the wrong. He was, in short, what her country-women called sérieux. No Frenchwoman asks better than that of lover or husband. It was the serious collage par excellence: they as a ménage, were sober, honest, frugal, industrious, immensely wealthy, and seriously saving. For his dinner, twice a week, she cooked him herself two mutton n chops with all but an eighth of an inch of the fat pared off, two mealy potatoes, as light and as white as flour, an apple — pie with a very flaky crust which he ate with a wedge of Stilton and some pulled bread and butter. This dinner was never varied once in twenty years, except during the season of game, when on alternate weeks a pheasant, a brace of grouse or of partridges would come from Groby. Nor in the twenty years had they once been separated for a whole week except that every late summer he spent a month at Harrogate. She always had his dress — shirts washed for him by her own laundress in the Quartier. He spent almost every week-end in one country house or another, using at most two dress-shirts and that only if he stayed till Tuesday. English people of good class do not dress for dinner on Sundays. That is a politeness to God, because theoretically you attend evening service and you do not go to church in the country in evening dress. As a matter of fact you never go to evening service — but it is complimentary to suggest by your dress that you might be visited by the impulse. So, at least, Marie Léonie Tietjens understood the affair.

She was looking out on the Common that sloped up to beech trees, at the poultry — bright chestnut birds, extremely busy on the intense green of the browsed grass. The great rooster reminded her of the late Monsieur Rodin, the sculptor who had conspired against Casimir–Bar. She had once seen him in his studio, conducting some American ladies round his work, and he had precisely resembled a rooster kicking its leg back and drooping its wings in the dust round a new hen. Only round a new one. Naturally! . . . This rooster was a tremendous Frenchman. Un vrai de la vraie. You could imagine nothing more unlike Christopher Tietjens! . . . The backward-raking legs on the dancing toes; the gait of a true master of deportment at an academy of young ladies! The vigilant clear eye cocking up every minute. . . . Hark! A swift shadow ran over the ground: the sparrow-hawk! The loud, piercing croon of that Father of his Country. How the hens all re-echoed it; how the chickens ran to their mothers and all together to the shadow of the hedge. Monsieur, the hawk would have no chance amidst that outcry. The hawk flits silent and detests noise. It will bring the poultry-keeper with his gun! . . . All is discovered because of the vigilance of Milord Chantecler. . . . There are those who reprove him because his eyes are always on the sky, because he has a proud head. But that is his function — that and gallantry. Perceive him with a grain of corn; how he flies upon it; how he invites with cries! His favourite — the newest — hens run ducking joyously to him. How he bows, droops and prances, holding the grain of corn in his powerful bill, «depositing it, pecking to bruise it and then depositing ‘ before his sultana of the moment. Nor will he complain if a little ball of fluff runs quickly and pecks the grain from his bill before Madame Partlet can take it from him. His gallantry has been wasted, but he is a good father! . . . Perhaps there is not even a grain of corn when he issues his invitations; perhaps he merely calls his favourites to him that he may receive their praise or perform the act of Love. . . .

He is then the man that a woman desires to have vouchsafed her. When he smites his wing feathers behind his back and utters his clarion cry of victory over the hawk that now glides far away down the hill, his hens come out again from the shadows, the chickens from beneath their mothers’ wings. He has given security to his country and in confidence they can return to their avocations. Different, indeed, from that Monsieur Christopher who, even when he was still a soldier, more than anything resembled a full, grey, coarse meal-sack short in the wind and with rolling, hard-blue eyes. Not hard eyes, but of a hard blue! And yet, curiously, he too had some of the spirit of Chantecler beneath his rolling shoulders of a farmyard boar. Obviously you could not be your brother’s brother and not have some traces of the Milor. . . . The spleen too. But no one could say that her Mark was not a proper man, Chic in an eccentric manner, but, oh yes, this. And that was his brother.

Naturally he might try to despoil her. That is what brother does to brother’s widow and children. . . . But, on occasion, he treated her with a pompous courtesy — a parade. On the first time he had seen her — not so long ago that; only during that period of the war that had been without measurable time — he had treated her to heavy but expressive gestures of respect and words of courtesy in an old-fashioned language that he must have learned at the Theatre Francais while they still played Ruy Blar. French was a different thing now, that she must acknowledge. When she went to Paris — which she did every late summer whilst her man went to Harrogate — the language her nephews spoke was a different affair — without grace, courtesy, intelligibility. Certainly without respect I Oh, la la! When they came to divide up her inheritance that would be a sharper kind of despoilment than ever Christopher Tietjens’! Whilst she lay on her bed of death those young fellows and their wives would be all through her presses and armoires like a pack of wolves. . . . La famille.’ Well, that was very proper. It showed the appropriate spirit of acquisition. What was a good mother for if not to despoil her husband’s relatives in the interests of their joint children!

So Christopher had been as courteous as a well-trained meal-sack of the dix-huitiéme. Eighteenth century. Older still, périade Moliére. When he had come into her room that had been dimly lit with a veilleuse — a night — light; they are so much more economical than shaded electric lights! — he had precisely suggested to her a lumbering character from Moliére as presented at the Comédie Francaise; elaborate of phrase and character but protuberant in odd places. She might in that case have supposed that he entertained designs on her person; but with his eyes sticking out in elaborate considerateness, he had only come to break to her the news that his brother was about to make an honest woman of her. That had been Mark’s phrase. It is of course only God that can do that. . . . But the enterprise had had the full concurrence of Monsieur the Heir–Apparent.

He had indeed been active whilst she had slumbered in a hooded-chair after four days and three nights on her feet. She would have surrendered the body of Mark to no human being but his brother. Now the brother had come to tell her not to be alarmed — panting with nervousness and shortness of breath. . . . Bad lungs both the brothers had! Panting he had come to tell her not to be alarmed at finding in her man’s room a priest, a lawyer and a lawyer’s clerk. . . . These black-robed people attend on death, bringing will-forms and the holy oils. The doctor and a man with oxygen cylinders had been there when she had gone to repose herself. It was a pretty congregation of the vultures that attend on us during life.

She had started at once to cry out. That undoubtedly was what had made him nervous — the anticipation that she would cry out sharply in the black, silent London that brooded between air-raids. In that silence, before sleep had visited her peignoir — enveloped, and therefore clumsyish form, she had been aware of Christopher’s activities on the telephone in the passage. It had struck her that he might have been warning the Pompes Funébres! . . . So she had begun to scream: the sound that irresistibly you make when death is about to descend. But he had agitated himself to soothe her — for all the world like Monsieur Sylvain on the boards of Moliére’s establishment! He spoke that sort of French, in a hoarse whisper, in the shadows of the night-light . . . assuring her that the priest was for marriage, with licence of the Archevéque de Cantorbéri such as in London you got in those days from Lambeth Palace for thirty pounds sterling. That enabled you to make any woman honest at any hour of the day or night. The lawyer was there to have a will resigned. Marriage in this singular country invalidates any previous will. So Tietjens (Christophére) assured her.

But then, if there was that haste, there was danger of death. She had often speculated as to whether he would or would not marry her as an act of death-bed contrition. Rather contemptuously as great lords with spleen make their peace with God. She screamed. In silent, black London. The night-light wavered in its saucer.

He crepitated out that his brother was doubling, in this new will, his posthumous provision for her. With provision for the purchase of a house in France if she would not inhabit the Dower House at Groby. A Louis Treize dower-house. It was his idea of consolation. He affected to be business-like. . . . These English. But then, perhaps they do not go through your presses and wardrobes whilst your corpse is still warm!

She screamed out that they might take away their marriage papers and will-forms, but to give her her man again. If they had let her give him her tisanes instead of . . .

With her breast heaving, she had cried into that man’s face:

“I swear that my first act when I am Madame Tietjens and have the legal power will be to turn out all these men and give him infusions of poppy-heads and lime-flowers.” She expected to see him recoil, but he had said:

“In heaven’s name do, my dear sister. It might save him and the nation.”

It was silly of him to talk like that. These fellows had too much pride of family. Mark did no more than attend to Transport. Well, perhaps transport in those days had its importance. Still, probably Tietjens, Christopher, overrated the indispensableness of Tietjens, Mark. . . . That would have been a month before the Armistice. They were black days. . . . A good brother, though. . . .

In the other room, whilst papers were signing, after the curl in his calott: and all had done reading from his book, Mark had signed to her to bend her head down to him and had kissed her. He whispered:

“Thank God there is one woman-Tietjens who is not a whore and a bitch!” He winced a little; her tears had fallen on his face. For the first time she had said: “Mon pauvre homme, ce qu’ils ont fait de toi!” She had been hurrying from the room when Christopher had stopped her. Mark had said:

“I regret to put you to further inconvenience . . .” in French. He had never spoken to her in French before. Marriage makes a difference. They speak to you with ceremony out of respect for themselves and their station in life. You also are at liberty to address them as your pauvre homme.

There had to be another ceremony. A man looking like a newly dressed jail-bird stepped out with his book like an office register. With a blue-black jowl. He married them over again. A civil marriage this time.

It was then that, for the first time, she had become aware of the existence of another woman-Tietjens, Christopher’s wife. . . . She had not known that Christopher had a wife. Why was not she there? But Mark with his labouring politeness and chest had told her that he exaggerated the formality of the marriage because if both he and Christopher died, she, Marie Léonie Tietjens, might have trouble with acertain Sylvia. The Bitch! . . . Well, she, Marie Léonie, was prepared to face her sister-in-law.

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