Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 4

MARK TIETJENS thought that a cow or a hog must have got into the orchard, there was such a rushing in the grass. He said to himself that that damn Gunning was always boasting about his prowess as a hedger; he might see that his confounded hedges kept out the beasts from the Common. An unusual voice — unusual in its intonation — remarked:

“Oh, Sir Mark Tietjens, this is dreadful!”

It appeared to be dreadful. A lady in a long skirt — an apparently elderly Di Vernon out of “Waverley,” which was one of the few novels Mark had ever read — was making dreadful havoc with the standing grass. The beautiful, proud heads swayed and went down as she rushed knee — deep amongst it; stopped, rushed again across his view and then stopped apparently to wring her hands and once more explain that it was dreadful. A tiny rabbit, scared out by her approach, scuttered out under his bed and presumably down into the vegetable beds. Marie Léonie’s Mistigris would probably get it and, since it was Friday, Marie Léonie would be perturbed.

The lady pushed through the remaining tall grass that stood between them and had the air of rising up at his bed — foot. She was rather a faint figure — like the hedge-sparrow. In grey, with a grey short coat and a waistcoat with small round buttons and a three-cornered hat. A tired, thin face. . . . Well, she must be tired, pushing through that long grass with a long skirt. She had a switch of green shagreen. The hen-tomtit that lived in the old shoe they had tucked on purpose under his thatch uttered long warning cries. The hen-tomtit did not like the aspect of this apparition.

She was devouring his face with her not disagreeable eyes and muttering:

“Dreadful! Dreadful!” An aeroplane was passing close overhead. She looked up and remarked almost tearfully:

“Hasn’t it struck you that but for the sins of your youth you might be doing stunts round these good-looking hills? Now I—”

Mark considered the matter, fixedly returning her glance. For an Englishman the phrase, “the sins of your youth,” as applied to a gentleman’s physical immobility implies only one thing. It never had occurred to him that that implication might be tacked on to him. But of course it might. It was an implication of a disagreeable, or at least a discrediting, kind, because in his class they had been accustomed to consider that the disability was incurred by consorting with public women of a cheap kind. He had never consorted with any .woman in his life but Marie Léonie, who was health exaggerated. But if he had had to do with women he would have gone in for the most expensive sort. And taken precautions! A gentleman owes that to his fellows!

The lady was continuing:

“I may as well tell you at once that I am Mrs. Millicent de Bray Pape. And hasn’t it struck you that but for lair depravity — unbridled depravity — your brother might today be operating in Capel Court instead of peddling old furniture at the end of the world i”

She added disconcertingly:

“It’s nervousness that makes me talk like this. I have always been shy in the presence of notorious libertines. That is my education.”

Her name conveyed to him that this lady was going to occupy Groby. He saw no objection to it. She had, indeed, written to ask him if he saw any objection to it. It had been a queerly Written letter, in hieroglyphs of a straggling and convoluted kind. . . . “I am the lady who is going to rent your mansion, Groby, from my friend Mrs. Sylvia.”

It had struck then — whilst Valentine had been holding the letter up for him to read. . . . Pretty piece, Valentine, nowadays. The country air suited her — that this woman must be an intimate friend of his brother’s wife Sylvia. Otherwise she would have said “Mrs. Sylvia Tietjens,” at least.

Now he was not so certain. This was not the sort of person to be an intimate friend of that bitch’s. Then she was a cat’s-paw. Sylvia’s intimates — amongst women — were all Bibbies and Jimmies and Marjies. If she spoke to any other woman it was to make use of her — as a lady’s maid or a tool.

The lady said: “It must be agony to you to be reduced to letting your ancestral home. But that does not seem to be a reason for not speaking to me. I meant to ask the Earl’s housekeeper for some eggs for you, but I forgot. I am always forgetting. I am so active. Mr. de Bray Pape says I am the most active woman from here to Santa Fe.”

Mark wondered: why Santa Fé? That was probably because Mr. Pape had olive-tree plantations in that part of California. Valentine had told him over Mrs. Pape’s letter that Mr. Pape was the largest olive — oil merchant in the world. He cornered all the olive-oil and all the straw-coloured flasks in Provence, Lombardy, California, and informed his country that you were not really refined if you used in your salads oil that did not come out of a Pape Quality flask. He showed ladies and gentlemen in evening dress starting back from expensively laid dinner-tables, holding their noses and exclaiming: “Have you no Papa?”

Mark wondered where Christopher got his knowledges, for naturally Valentine had the information from him. Probably Christopher had looked at American papers. But why should one look at American papers? Mark himself never had. Wasn’t there the Field? . . . He was a queer chap, Christopher.

The lady said:

“It isn’t a reason for not speaking to me! It isn’t!”

Her greyish face flushed slowly. Her eyes glittered behind her rimless pince-nez. She exclaimed:

“You are probably too haughtily aristocratic to speak to me, Sir Mark Tietjens. But I have in me the soul of the Maintenon; you are only the fleshly descendant of a line of chartered libertines. That is what Time and the New World have done to redress the balance of the Old. It is we who are keeping up the status of the grands seigneurs of old in your so-called ancestral homes.”

He thought she was probably right. Not a bad sort of woman: she would naturally be irritated at his not answering her. It was proper enough.

He never remembered to have spoken to an American or to have thought about America. Except, of course, during the war. Then he had spoken to Americans in uniform about Transport. He hadn’t liked their collars, but they had known their jobs as far as their jobs went — which had been asking to be provided with a disproportionate amount of transport for too few troops. He had had to wring that transport out of the country. If he had had his way he wouldn’t have. But he hadn’t had his way. Because the Governing Classes were no good. Transport is the soul of a war: the spirit of an army had used to be in its feet, Napoleon had said. Something like that. But those fellows had starved the army of transport; then flooded it with so much it couldn’t move; then starved it again. Then they had insisted on his finding enormously too much transport for those fellows with queer collars who used it for disposing of typewriters and sewing machines that came over on transports. . . . It had broken his back. That and solitude. There had not been a fellow he could talk to in the Government towards the end. Not one who knew the difference between the ancestry of Persimmon and the stud form of Sceptre or Isinglass. Now they were paying for it.

The lady was saying to him that her spiritual affinity was probably a surprise to Sir Mark. There was none the less no mistake about it. In every one of the Maintenon’s houses she felt instantly at home; the sight in any Museum of any knickknack or jewel that had belonged to the respectable companion of Louis Quatorze startled her as if with an electric shock. Mr. Quarternine, the celebrated upholder of the metempsychosistic school, had told her that those phenomena proved beyond doubt that the soul of the Maintenon had returned to earth in her body. What, as against that, were the mere fleshly claims of Old Family?

Mark considered that she was probably right. The old families of his country were a pretty inefficient lot that he was thankful to have done with. Racing was mostly carried on by English nobles from Frankfort — on — the-Main. If this lady could be regarded as speaking allegorically she was probably right. And she had had to get a soul from some-where.

But she talked too much about it. People ought not to be so tremendously fluent. It was tiring; it failed to hold the attention. She was going on.

He lost himself in speculations as to her reason for being there, trampling on his brother’s grass. It would give Gunning and the extra hands no end of an unnecessary job to cut. The lady was talking about Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette had gone sledging on salt in summer. Trampling down hay-grass was really worse. Or no better. If every one in the country trampled on grass like that it would put up the price of fodder for transport animals to something prohibitive.

Why had she come there? She wanted to take Groby furnished. She might for him. He had never cared about Groby. His father had never had a stud worth talking about. A selling plater or two. He had never cared for hunting or shooting. He remembered standing on Groby lawn watching the shooting parties take to the hills on the Twelfth and feeling rather a fool. Christopher of course loved Groby. He was younger and hadn’t expected to own it.

A pretty muck Sylvia might have made of the place — if her mother had let her. Well, they would know pretty soon. Christopher would be back if the machine did not break his obstinate neck. . . . What, then, was this woman doing here? She probably represented a new turn of the screw that that unspeakable woman was administering to Christopher.

His sister-in-law Sylvia represented for him unceasing, unsleeping activities of a fantastic kind. She wanted, he presumed, his brother to go back and sleep with her. So much hatred could have no other motive. . . . There could be no other motive for sending this American lady here.

The American lady was telling him that she intended to keep up at Groby a semi-regal state — of course with due democratic modesty. Apparently she saw her way to squaring that circle! . . . Probably there are ways. There must be quite a lot of deucedly rich fellows in that country! How did they reconcile doing themselves well with democracy? Did their valets sit down to meals with them, for instance? That would be bad for discipline. But perhaps they did not care about discipline. There was no knowing.

Mrs. de Bray Pape apparently approved of having footmen in powder and the children of the tenants kneeling down when she drove out in his father’s coach and six. Because she intended to use his father’s coach and six when she drove over the moors to Redcar or Scarborough. That, Mrs. de Bray Pape had been told by Sylvia, was what his father had done. And it was true enough. That queer old josser his father had always had out that monstrosity when he went justicing or to the Assizes. That was to keep up his state. He didn’t see why Mrs. de Bray Pape shouldn’t keep up hers if she wanted to. But he did not see the tenants’ children kneeling to the lady! Imagine old Scutt’s children at it, or Long Tom 0’ th’ Clough’s! . . . Their grandchildren, of course. They had called his father “Tietjens”— some of them even “Auld Mark!” to his face. He himself had always been “Young Mark” to them. Very likely he was still. These things do not change any more than the heather on the moors. He wondered what the tenants would call her. She would have a tough time of it. They weren’t her tenants; they were his and they jolly well knew it. These fellows who took houses and castles furnished thought they jolly well hired the family. There had been before the war a fellow from Frankfort-on-the-Main took Lindisfarne or Holy Island or some such place and hired a bagpiper to play round the table while they ate. And closed his eyes whilst the fellow played reels. As if it had been a holy occasion. . . . Friend of Sylvia’s friends in the Government. To do her credit she would not stop with Jews. The only credit she had to her tail!

Mrs. de Bray Pape was telling him that it was not undemocratic to have your tenants’ children kneel down when you passed.

A boy’s voice said:

“Uncle Mark!” Who the devil could that be? Probably the son of one of the people he had week-ended with. Bowlby’s maybe; or Teddy Hope’s. He had always liked children and they liked him.

Mrs. de Bray Pape was saying that, yes, it was good for the tenants’ children. The Rev. Dr. Slocombe, the distinguished educationalist, said that these touching old rites should be preserved in the interests of the young. He said that to see the Prince of Wales at the Coronation kneeling before his father and swearing fealty had been most touching. And she had seen pictures of the Main-tenon having it done when she walked out. She was now the Maintenon, therefore it must be right. But for Marie Antoinette . . .

The boy’s voice said:

“I hope you will excuse. . . . I know it isn’t the thing . . . .”

He couldn’t see the boy without turning his head on the pillow and he was not going to turn his head. He had a sense of someone a yard or so away at his olf — shoulder. The boy at least had not come through the standing hay.

He did not imagine that the son of anyone he had ever week-ended with would ever walk through standing hay. The young generation were a pretty useless lot, but he could hardly believe they would have come to that yet. Their sons might. . . . He saw visions of tall dining-rooms lit up, with tall pictures, and dresses, and the sunset through high windows over tall grasses in the parks. He was done with that. If any tenants’ children ever knelt to him it would be when he took his ride in his wooden coat to the little church over the Moors. . . . Where his father had shot himself.

That had been a queer go. He remembered getting the news. He had been dining at Marie Léonie’s. . . .

The boy’s voice was, precisely, apologizing for the fact that that lady had walked through the grass. At the same time, Mrs. de Bray Pape was saying things to the discredit of Marie Antoinette, whom apparently she disliked. He could not imagine why anyone should dislike Marie Antoinette. Yet very likely she was dislikeable. The French, who were sensible people, had cut her head off, so they presumably disliked her. . . .

He had been dining at Marie Léonie’s, she standing, her hands folded before her, hanging down, watching him eat his mutton chops and boiled potatoes, when the porter from his Club had ’phoned through that there was a wire for him. Marie Léonie had answered the telephone. He had told her to tell the porter to open the telegram and read it to her. That was a not unusual proceeding. Telegrams that came to him at the Club usually announced the results of races that he had not attended. He hated to get up from the dinner-table. She had come back slowly, and said still more slowly that she had bad news for him; there had been an accident; his father had been found shot dead.

He had sat still for quite a time; Marie Léonie also had said nothing. He remembered that he had finished his chops, but had not eaten his apple-pie. He had finished his claret.

By that time he had come to the conclusion that his father had probably committed suicide, and that he — he, Mark Tietjens — was probably responsible for his father’s having done that. He had got up, then, told Marie Léonie to get herself some mourning, and had taken the night train to Groby. There had been no doubt about it when he got there. His father had committed suicide. His father was not the man unadvisedly to crawl through a quicken-hedge with his gun at full-cock behind him, after rabbits. . . . It had been purposed.

There was, then, something soft about the Tietjens stock — for there had been no real and sufficient cause for the suicide. Obviously his father had had griefs. He had never got over the death of his second wife; that was soft for a Yorkshireman. He had lost two sons and an only daughter in the war; other men had done that and got over it. He had heard through him, Mark, that his youngest son — Christopher — was a bad hat. But plenty of men had sons who were bad hats. . . . Something soft then about the stock! Christopher certainly was soft. But that came from the mother. Mark’s stepmother had been from the south of Yorkshire. Soft people down there! a soft woman. Christopher had been her ewe-lamb and she had died of grief when Sylvia had run away from him! . . .

The boy with a voice had got himself into view towards the bottom of the bed, near Mrs. de Bray Pape . . . a tallish slip of a boy, with slightly chawbacony cheeks, high-coloured, lightish hair, brown eyes. Upstanding but softish. Mark seemed to know him, but could not place him. The boy asked to be forgiven for the intrusion, saying that he knew it was not the thing.

Mrs. de Bray Pape was talking improbably about Marie Antoinette, whom she very decidedly disliked. She said that Marie Antoinette had behaved with great ingratitude to Madame de Maintenon — which must have been difficult. Apparently, according to Mrs. de Bray Pape, when Marie Antoinette had been a neglected little girl about the Court of France, Madame de Maintenon had befriended her, lending her frocks, jewels and perfumes. Later Marie Antoinette had persecuted her benefactor. From that had arisen all the woes of France and the Old World in general.

That appeared to Mark to be to mix history, but he was not very certain. Mrs. de Bray Pape said, however, that she had those little-known facts from Mr. Reginald Weiler, the celebrated professor of social economy at one of the Western Universities.

Mark returned to the consideration of the softness of the Tietjens stock, whilst the boy gazed at him with eyes that might have been imploring or that might have been merely moon-struck. Mark could not see what the boy could have to be imploring about, so it was probably just stupidity. His breeches, however, were very nicely cut. Very nicely, indeed; Mark recognized, indeed, the tailor — a man in Conduit Street. If that fellow had the sense to get his riding breeches from that man, he could not be quite an ass. . . .

That Christopher was soft because his mother did not come from the north of Yorkshire or Durham might be true enough — but that was not enough to account for the race dying out. His, Mark’s, father had no descendants by his sons. The two brothers who had been killed had been childless. He himself had none. Christopher . . . Well, that was debateable!

That he, Mark, had practically killed his own father he was ready to acknowledge. One made mistakes; that was one. If one made mistakes, one should try to repair them; otherwise, one must, as it were, cut one’s losses. He could not bring his father back to life; he hadn’t, equally, been able to do anything for Christopher. . . . Not much, certainly. The fellow had refused his brass. . . . He couldn’t really blame him.

The boy was asking him if he would not speak to them. He said he was Mark’s nephew, Mark Tietjens junior.

Mark took credit to himself because he did not stir a hair. He had so made up his mind, he found, that Christopher’s son was not his son that he had almost forgotten the cub’s existence. But he ought not to have made up his mind so quickly: he was astonished to find from the automatic working of his mind that he so had. There were too many factors to be considered that he had never bothered really to consider. Christopher had determined that this boy should have Groby: that had been enough for him, Mark. He did not care who had Groby.

But the actual sight of this lad whom he had never seen before presented the problem to him as some-thing that needed solution. It came as a challenge. When he came to think of it, it was a challenge to him to make up his mind finally as to the nature of Woman. He imagined that he had never bothered his head about that branch of the animal kingdom. But he found that, lying there, he must have spent quite a disproportionate amount of his time in thinking about the motives of Sylvia.

He had never spoken much with any but men-and then mostly with men of his own class and type. Naturally you addressed a few polite words to your week-end hostess. If you found yourself in the rose-garden of a Sunday before church with a young or old woman who knew anything about horses, you talked about horses, or Goodwood, or Ascot to her for long enough to show politeness to your hostess’s guests. If she knew nothing about horses you talked about the roses or the irises, or the weather last week. But that pretty well exhausted it. Nevertheless, he knew all about women. Of that he was confident. That is to say, that when in the course of conversation or gossip he had heard the actions of women narrated or commented on, he had always been able to supply a motive for those actions sufficient to account for them to his satisfaction, or to let him predict with accuracy what course the future would take. No doubt, twenty years of listening to the almost ceaseless but never disagreeable conversation of Marie Léonie had been a liberal education.

He regarded his association with her with complete satisfaction — as the only subject for complete satisfaction to be found in the contemplation of the Tietjens family. Christopher’s Valentine was a pretty piece enough and had her head screwed confoundedly well on. But Christopher’s association with her had brought such a peck of troubles down on his head that, except for the girl as an individual, it was a pretty poor choice. It was a man’s job to pick a woman who would neither worry him nor be the cause of worries. Well, Christopher had picked two — and look at the results!

He himself had been completely unmistaken from the first minute. He had first seen Marie Léonie on the stage at Covent Garden. He had gone to Covent Garden in attendance on his step-mother, his father’s second wife — the soft woman. A florid, gentle, really saintly person. She had passed around Groby for a saint. An Anglican saint, of course. That was what was the matter with Christopher. It was the soft streak. A Tietjens had no business with saintliness in his composition! It was bound to get him looked on as a blackguard!

But he had attended Covent Garden as a politeness to his stepmother, who very seldom found herself in Town. And there, in the second row of the ballet, he had seen Marie Léonie — slimmer, of course, in those days. He had at once made up his mind to take up with her, and, an obliging commissionaire having obtained her address for him from the stage-door, he had, towards twelve-thirty next day, walked along the Edgware Road towards her lodgings. He had intended to call on her; he met her, however, in the street. Seeing her there, he had liked her walk, her figure, her neat dress.

He had planted himself, his umbrella, his billy-cock hat and all, squarely in front of her — she had neither flinched nor attempted to bolt round him — and had said that, if at the end of her engagement in London, she cared to be placed “dans ses draps,” with two hundred and fifty pounds a year and pin money to be deliberated on, she might hang up her cream-jug at an apartment that he would take for her in St. John’s Wood Park, which was the place in which, in those days, most of his friends had establishments. She had preferred the neighbourhood of the Gray’s Inn Road, as reminding her more of France.

But Sylvia was quite another pair of shoes. . . .

That young man was flushing all over his face. The young of the tomtit in the old shoe were getting impatient; they were chirruping in spite of the alarm-cries of the mother on the boughs above the thatch. It was certainly insanitary to have boughs above your thatch, but what did it matter in days so degenerate that even the young of tom-tits could not restrain their chirpings in face of their appetites.

That young man — Sylvia’s by-blow — was addressing embarrassed remarks to Mrs. de Bray Pape. He suggested that perhaps his uncle resented the lady’s lectures on history and sociology. He said they had come to talk about the tree. Perhaps that was why his uncle would not speak to them.

The lady said that it was precisely giving lessons in history to the dissolute aristocracy of the Old World that was her mission in life. It was for their good, resent it how they might. As for talking about the tree, the young man had better do it for himself. She now intended to walk around the garden to see how the poor lived.

The boy said that in that case he did not see why Mrs. de Bray Pape had come at all. The lady answered that she had come at the sacred behest of his injured mother. That ought to be answer enough for him. She flitted, disturbedly from Mark’s view.

The boy, swallowing visibly in his throat, fixed his slightly protruding eyes on his uncle’s face. He was about to speak, but he remained for a long time silent and goggling. That was a Christopher Tietjens trick — not a Tietjens family trick. To gaze at you a long time before speaking. Christopher had it, no doubt, from his mother — exaggeratedly. She would gaze at you for a long time. Not unpleasantly, of course. But Christopher had always irritated him, even as a small boy. . . . It is possible that he himself might not be as he was if he hadn’t gazed at him for a long time, like a stuck pig. On the morning of that beastly day. Armistice Day. . . . Beastly.

Cramp’s eldest son, a bugler in the second Hampshires, went down the path, his bugle shining behind his khaki figure. Now they would make a beastly row with that instrument. On Armistice Day they had played the Last Post on the steps of the church under Marie Léonie’s windows. . . . The Last Post! . . . The Last of England! He remembered thinking that. He had not by then had the full terms of that surrender, but he had had a dose enough of Christopher’s stuck-piggedness! . . . A full dose! He didn’t say he didn’t deserve it. If you make mistakes you must take what you get for it. You shouldn’t make mistakes.

The boy at the foot of the bed was making agonized motions with his throat: swallowing his Adam’s apple.

He said:

“I can understand, uncle, that you hate to see us. All the same, it seems a little severe to refuse to speak to us !”

Mark wondered a little at the breakdown in communications that there must have been. Sylvia had been spying round that property, and round and round and round again. She had had renewed interviews with Mrs. Cramp. It had struck him as curious taste to like to reveal to dependents — to reveal and to dwell upon the fact that you were distasteful to your husband. If his woman had left him he would have preferred to hold his tongue about it. He certainly would not have gone caterwauling about it to the carpenter of the man she had taken up with. Still, there was no .accounting for tastes. Sylvia had, no doubt, been so full of her own griefs that very likely she had not listened to what Mrs. Cramp had said about his, Mark’s, condition. On the one or two interviews he had had with that bitch she had been like that. She had sailed in with her grievances against Christopher with such vigour that she had gone away with no ideas at all as to the conditions on which she was to be allowed to inhabit Groby. Obviously it taxed her mind to invent what she invented. You could not invent that sort of sex-cruelty stuff without having your mind a little affected. She could not, for instance, have invented the tale that he, Mark, was suffering for the sins of his youth without its taking it out of her. That is the ultimate retribution of Providence on those who invent gossip frequently. They go a little dotty. . . . The fellow — he could not call his name to mind, half Scotch, half Jew, who had told him the worst tales against Christopher had gone:1 little dotty. He had grown a beard and wore a top-hat at inappropriate functions. Well, in effect, Christopher was a saint, and Provvy invents retributions of an ingenious kind against those who libel saints.

At any rate, that bitch must have become so engrossed in her tale that it had not come through to her that he, Mark, could not speak. Of course, the results of venereal disease are not pleasant to contemplate, and, no doubt, Sylvia, having invented the disease for him, had not liked to contemplate the resultant symptoms. At any rate, that boy did not know — and neither did Mrs. de Bray Pape — that he did not speak. Not to them, not to anybody. He was finished with the world. He perceived the trend of its actions, listened to its aspirations, and even to its prayers, but he would never again stir lip or finger. It was like being dead — or being God.

This boy was apparently asking for absolution. He was of opinion that it was not a very sporting thing of himself and Mrs. Bray to come there. . . .

It was, however, sporting enough. He could see that they were both as afraid of him, Mark, as of the very devil. Its taste might, however, be questioned. Still, the situation was unusual — as all situations are. Obviously it was not in good taste for a boy to come to the house in which his father lived with a mistress, nor for the wife’s intimate friend either. Still they apparently wanted, the one to let, the other to take, Groby. They could not do either if he, Mark, did not give permission, or, at any rate, if he opposed them. It was business, and business may be presumed to cover quite a lot of bad taste.

And, in effect, the boy was saying that his mother was, of course, a splendid person, but that he, Mark Junior, found her proceedings in many respects questionable. One could not, however, expect a woman — and an injured woman . . . The boy, with his shining eyes and bright cheeks, seemed to beg Mark to concede that his mother was at least an injured woman. . . . One could not expect, then, a wronged woman to see things eye to eye with . . . with young Cambridge! For, he hastened to assure Mark, his Set — the son of the Prime Minister, young Doble, and Porter, as well as himself, were unanimously of opinion that a man ought to be allowed to live with whom he liked. He was not, therefore, questioning his father’s actions, and, for himself, if the occasion arose, he would be very glad to shake his father’s . . . companion . . . by the hand.

His bright eyes became a little humid. He said that he was not in effect questioning anything, but he thought that he himself would have been the better for a little more of his father’s influence. He considered that he had been too much under his mother’s influence. They noticed it, even at Cambridge! That, in effect, was the real snag when it came to be a question of dissolving unions once contracted. Scientifically considered. Questions of . . . of sex attraction, in spite of all the efforts of scientists, remained fairly mysterious. The best way to look at it . . . the safest way, was that sex attraction occurred, as a rule, between temperamental and physical opposites, because Nature desired to correct extremes. No one, in fact, could be more different than his father and mother — the one so graceful, athletic and . . . oh, charming. And the other so . . . oh, let us say perfectly honourable, but . . . oh, lawless.

Because, of course, you can break certain laws and remain the soul of honour.

Mark wondered if this boy was aware that his mother habitually informed every one whom she met that his father lived on women. On the immoral earnings of women, she would infer when she thought it safe. . . .

The soul of honour, then, and masculinely clumsy and damn fine in his way. . . . Well, he, Mark Tietjens junior, was not there to judge his father. His uncle Mark could see that he regarded his father with affection and admiration. But if Nature — he must be pardoned for using anthropomorphic expressions since they were the shortest way — if Nature, then, meant unions of opposite characters to redress extremes in the children, the process did not complete itself with . . . in short, with the act of physical union. For just as there were obviously inherited physical characteristics, and, no doubt, inherited memory, ‘there yet remained the question of the influence of temperament by means of personal association. So that for one opposite to leave the fruits of a union exclusively under the personal influence of the other opposite was very possibly to defeat the purposes of Nature . . .

That boy, Mark thought, was a very curious problem. He seemed to be a good, straight boy. A little loquacious; still, that was to be excused since he had to do all the talking himself. From time to time he had paused in his speech as if, deferentially, he wished to have Mark’s opinion. That was proper. He, Mark, could not stand hobbledehoys — particularly the hobbledehoys of that age, who appeared to be opinionative and emotional beyond the normal in hobbledehoys.

“Anyhow, he could not stand the Young once they were beyond the age of childhood. But he was aware that, if you want to conduct a scientific investigation, if you want to arrive, for yourself, at the truth of an individual’s parentage — you must set aside your likes and dislikes.

Heaven knew, he had found Christopher, when he had been only one of the younger ones in his father’s — he had found him irritating enough . . . a rather moony, fair brat, interested mostly in mathematics, with a trick of standing with those goggle eyes gazing bluely at you — years ago, in and around, at first the nursery, then the stables at Groby. Then, if this lad irritated him, it was rather an argument in favour of his being Christopher’s son than Sylvia’s by — blow by another man. . . . What was the fellow’s name? A rank bad hat, anyhow.

The probability was that he was the other fellow’s son. That woman would not have trepanned Christopher into the marriage if she hadn’t at least thought that she was with child. There was nothing to be said against any wench’s tricking any man into marrying her if she were in that condition. But once having got a man to give a name to your bastard you ought to treat him with some loyalty; it is a biggish service he has done you. That Sylvia had never done. . . . They had got this young fellow into their — the Tietjenses’— family. There he was, with his fingers on Groby already. . . . That was all right. As great families as Tietjens’ had had that happen to them.

But what made Sylvia pestilential was that she should afterwards have developed this sex-madness for his unfortunate brother.

There was no other way to look at it. She had undoubtedly lured Christopher on to marry her because she thought, rightly or wrongly, that she was with child by another man. They would never know — she herself probably did not know! — whether this boy was Christopher’s son or the other’s. English women are so untidy — shame-faced — about these things. That was excusable. But every other action of hers from that date had been inexcusable — except regarded as actions perpetrated under the impulsion of sex — viciousness.

It is perfectly proper — it is a mother’s duty to give an unborn child a name and a father. But afterwards to blast the name of that father is more discreditable than to leave the child nameless. This boy was now Tietjens of Groby — but he was also the boy who was the son of a father who had behaved unspeakably according to the mother. . . . And the son of a mother who had been unable to attract her man! . . . Who advertised the fact to the estate carpenter! If we say that the good of the breed is the supreme law what sort of virtue was this?

It was all very well to say that every one of Sylvia’s eccentricities had in view the sole aim of getting her boy’s father to return to her. No doubt they might. He, Mark, was perfectly ready to concede that even her infidelities, notorious as they had been, might have been merely ways of calling his unfortunate brother’s attention back to her — of keeping herself in his mind. After the marriage Christopher, finding out that he had been a mere cat’s-paw, probably treated her pretty coldly or ignored her — maritally. . . . And he was a pretty attractive fellow, Christopher. He, Mark, was bound nowadays to acknowledge that. A regular saint and Christian martyr and all that. . . . Enough to drive a woman wild if she had to live beside him and be ignored.

It is obvious that women must be allowed what means they can make use of to maintain — to arouse — their sex attraction for their men. That is what the bitches are for in the scale of things. They have to perpetuate the breed. To do that they have to call attention to themselves and to use what devices they see {it to use, each one according to her own temperament. That cruelty was an excitant, he was quite ready, too, to concede. He was ready to concede anything to the woman. To be cruel is to draw attention to yourself; you cannot expect to be courted by a man whom you allow to forget you. But there probably ought to be a limit to things. You probably ought in this, as in all other things, to know what you can do and what you can’t — and the proof of this particular pudding, as of all others, was in the eating. Sylvia had left no stone unturned in the determination to keep herself in her man’s mind, and she had certainly irretrievably lost her man: to another girl. Then she was just a nuisance.

A woman intent on getting a man back ought to have some system, some sort of scheme at the very least. But Sylvia — he knew it from the interminable talk that he had had with Christopher on Armistice Night — Sylvia delighted most in doing what she called pulling the strings of shower-baths. She did extravagant things, mostly of a cruel kind, for the fun of seeing what would happen. Well, you cannot allow yourself fun when you are on a campaign. Not as to the subject matter of the campaign itself! If then you do what you want rather than what is expedient, you damn well have to take what you get for it. Damn well!

What would have justified Sylvia, no matter what she did, would have been if she had succeeded in having another child by his brother. She hadn’t. The breed of Tietjens was not enriched. Then she was just a nuisance. . . .

An infernal nuisance. . . . For what was she up to now? It was perfectly obvious that both Mrs. de Bray Pape and this boy were here because she had had another outbreak of . . . practically Sadism. They were here so that Christopher might be hurt some more and she not forgotten. What, then, was it? What the deuce was it?

The boy had been silent for some time. He was gazing at Mark with the goggle-eyed gasping that had been so irritating in his father — particularly on Armistice Day. . . . Well, he, Mark, was apparently now conceding that this boy was probably his brother’s son. A real Tietjens after all was to reign over the enormously long, grey house behind the fantastic cedar. The tallest cedar in Yorkshire. In England. In the Empire. . . . He didn’t care. He who lets a tree overhang his roof calls the doctor in daily. . . . The boy’s lips began to move. No sound came out. He was presumably in a great state! ’

He was undoubtedly like his father. Darker . . . Brown hair, brown eyes, high-coloured cheeks all flushed now. Straight nose; marked brown eyebrows. A sort of . . . scared, puzzled . . . what was it? . . . expression. Well, Sylvia was fair; Christopher was dark-haired with silver streaks, but fair-complexioned. . . . Damn it 1 this boy was more attractive than Christopher had been at his age and earlier. . . . Christopher hanging round the school-room door in Groby, puzzled over the mathematical theory of waves. He, Mark, hadn’t been able to stand him or, indeed, any of the other children. There was sister Effie — born to be a curate’s wife. . . . Puzzled! That was it! . . . That bothering woman, his father’s second wife — the Saint! — had introduced the puzzlement strain into the Tietjenses. . . . This was Christopher’s boy, saintly strain and all. Christopher was probably born to be a rural dean in a fat living writing treatises on the integral calculus all the time except on Saturday afternoons. With a great reputation for saintliness. Well, he wasn’t the one and hadn’t the other. He was an old furniture dealer, who made a stink in virtuous nostrils. . . . Provvy works in a mysterious way. The boy was saying now:

“The tree . . . the great tree. . . . It darkens the windows . . . .”

Mark said: “Oha!” to himself. Groby Great Tree was the symbol of Tietjens. For thirty miles round Groby they made their marriage vows by Groby Great Tree. In the other Ridings they said that Groby Tree and Groby well were equal in height and depth one to the other. When they were really imaginatively drunk Cleveland villagers would declare — would knock you down if you denied — that Groby Great Tree was 365 foot high and Groby well 365 feet deep. A foot for every day of the year. . . . On special occasions — he could not himself be bothered to remember what — they would ask permission to hang rags and things from the boughs. Christopher said that one of the chief indictments against Joan of Arc had been that she and the other village girls of Domrémy had hung rags and trinkets from the boughs of a cedar. Offerings to fairies. . . . Christopher set great store by the tree. He was a romantic ass. Probably he set more store by the tree than by anything else at Groby. He would pull the house down if he thought it incommoded the tree.

Young Mark was bleating, positively bleating:

“The Italians have a proverb. . . . He who lets a tree overhang his house invites a daily call from the doctor. . . . I agree myself. . . . In principle, of course . . . .”

Well, that was that! Sylvia, then, was proposing to threaten to ask to have Groby Great Tree cut down. Only to threaten to ask. But that would be enough to agonize the miserable Christopher. You couldn’t cut down Groby Great Tree. But the thought that the tree was under the guardian-ship of unsympathetic people would be enough to drive Christopher almost dotty — for years and years.

“Mrs. de Bray Pape,” the boy was stammering, “is extremely keen on the tree’s being . . . I agree in principle. . . . My mother wished you to see that — oh, in modern days — a house is practically unlettable if . . . So she got Mrs. de Bray Pape . . . She hasn’t had the courage though she swore she had . . . .”

He continued to stammer. Then he started and stopped, crimson. A woman’s voice had called:

“Mr. Tietjens. . . . Mr. Mark. . . . Hi . . . hup!”

A small woman, all in white, white breeches, white coat, white wide-awake, was slipping down from a tall bay with a white star on the forehead — a bay with large nostrils and an intelligent head. She waved her hand obviously at the boy and then caressed the horse’s nostrils. Obviously at the boy . . . for it was obviously unlikely that Mark Senior would know a woman who could make a sound like “Hi, hup 1” to attract his attention.

Lord Fittleworth, in a square, hard hat, sat on an immense, coffinheaded dapple-grey. He had bristling, close — cropped moustaches and sat like a limpet. He waved his crop in the direction of Mark and went on talking to Gunning, who was at his stirrup. The coffinheaded beast started forward and reared a foot or so; a wild, brazen, yelping sound had disturbed it. The boy was more and more scarlet and, as emotion grew on him, more and more like Christopher on that beastly day. . . . Christopher with a piece of furniture under his arm, in Marie Léonie’s room, his eyes goggling out at the foot of the bed.

Mark swore painfully to himself. He hated to be reminded of that day. Now this lad and that infernal bugle that the younger children of Cramp had got hold of from their bugler-brother had put it back damnably in his mind. It went on. At intervals. One child had a try, then another.

Obviously then Cramp the eldest took it. It blared out. . . . Ta . . . Ta . . . Ta. . . . Ta.. ti . . . ta-ta — ti . . . Ta . . . . The Last Post. The b — y infernal Last Post. . . . Well, Christopher, as that day Mark had predicted, had got himself, with his raw sensibilities, into a pretty b — y infernal mess while some drunken ass had played the Last Post under the window. . . . Mark meant that whilst that farewell was being played he had had that foresight. And he hated the bugle for reminding him of it. He hated it more than he had imagined. He could not have imagined himself using profanity even to himself. He must have been profoundly moved. Deucedly and profoundly moved at that beastly noise. It had come over the day like a disaster. He saw every detail of Marie Léonie’s room as it had been on that day. There Was, on the marble mantel-shelf, under an immense engraving of the Sistine Madonna, a feeding-cup over a night — light in which Marie Léonie had been keeping some sort of pap warm for him. . . . Probably the last food to which he had ever helped himself. . . .

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/ford/ford_madox/last-post/part1.4.html

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