Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 6

THAT would have been three weeks before the eleventh of November. His mind boggled a little at computing what the actual date in October must have been. With his then pneumonia his mind had not much registered the dates of that period; days had gone by in fever and boredom. Still, a man ought to remember the date of his wedding. Say it had been the twentieth of October, 1918. The twentieth of October had been his father’s birthday. When he came to think of it he could remember remembering hazily that it was queer that he should be going out of life on the date his father had entered it. It made a sort of full stop. And it made a full stop that, practically on that day, Papists entered into their own in Groby. He had, that is to say, made up his mind to the fact that Christopher’s son would have Groby as a home even if Christopher didn’t. And the boy was by now a full-fledged Papist, pickled and oiled and wafered and all. Sylvia had rubbed the fact in about a week ago by sending him a card for his nephew’s provisional baptism and first communion about a week before. It had astonished him that he had not felt more bitter.

He had not any doubt that the fact had reconciled him to his marriage with Marie Léonie. He had told his brother a year or so before that he would never marry her because she was a Papist, but he was aware that then he was only chipping at Spelden, the fellow that wrote “Spelden on Sacrilege,” a book that predicted all sorts of disaster for fellows who owned former Papist Church lands or who had displaced Papists. When he had told Christopher that he would never marry Charlotte — he had called her Charlotte for reasons of camouflage before the marriage — he had been quite aware that he was chipping at Spelden’s ghost — for Spelden must have been dead a hundred years or so. As it were, he had been saying grimly if pleasantly to that bogy:

“Eh, old un. You see. You may prophesy disaster to Groby because a Tietjens was given it over the head of one of your fellows in Dutch William’s time. But you can’t frighten me into making an honest woman — let alone a Lady of Groby — out of a Papist.”

And he hadn’t. He would swear that no idea of disaster to Groby had entered his head at the date of the marriage. Now, he would not say; but of what he felt then he was certain. He remembered thinking whilst the ceremony was going on of the words of Fraser of Lovat before they executed him in the Forty–Five. They had told him on the scaffold that if he would make some sort of sub-mission to George II they would spare his body from being exhibited in quarters 011 the spikes of the buildings in Edinburgh. And Fraser had answered I: “An the King will have my heid I care not what he may do with my,” naming a part of a gentleman that is not now mentioned in drawing-rooms. So, if a Papist was to inhabit Groby House, it mattered precious little if the first Lady Tietjens of Groby were Papist or Heathen.

A man as a rule does not marry his mistress whilst he has any kick in him. If he still aims at a career it might hinder him if she were known to have been his mistress, or, of course, a fellow who wants to make a career might want to help himself on by making a good marriage. Even if a man does not want to make a career he may think that a woman who has been his mistress as like as not may cuckold him after marriage, for, if she has gone wrong with him, she would be more apt to go wrong elsewhere as well. But if a fellow is practically finished those considerations disappear, and he remembers that you go to hell if you seduce virgins. It is as well at one time or another to make your peace with your Creator. For ever is a long word and God is said to disapprove of unconsecrated unions.

Besides, it would very likely please Marie Léonie, though she had never said a word about it, and it would certainly dish Sylvia, who was no doubt counting on being the first Lady Tietjens of Groby. And then, too, it would undoubtedly make Marie Léonie safer. In one way and another he had given his mistress quite a number of things that might well be desirable to that bitch, and neither his not Christopher’s lives were worth much, whilst Chancery can be a very expensive affair if you get into it.

And he was aware that he had always had a soft spot in his heart for Marie Léonie, otherwise he would not have provided her with the name of Charlotte for public consumption. A man gives his mistress another name if there is any chance of his marrying her, so that it may look as if he were marrying someone else when he does it. Marie Léonit Riotor looks different from a casual Charlotte. It gives her a better chance in the world outside.

So it had been well enough. The world was. changing and there was no particular reason why he should not change with it. . . . And he had not been able to conceal from himself that he was getting on the way. Time lengthened out. When he had come in drenched from one of the potty local meetings that they had had to fall back on during the war he had known that something was coming to him, because after Marie Léonie had tucked him up in bed he could not remember the strain of the winner of some handicap of no importance. Marie Léonie had given him a goodish tot of mm with butter in it and that might have made him hazy — but, all the same, that had never happened to him in his life before, rum or no rum. And by now he had forgotten even the name of the winner and the meeting. . . .

He could not conceal from himself that his memory was failing, though otherwise he considered himself to be as sound a man as he had ever been. But when it came to memory, ever since that day his brain had checked at times as a tired horse will at a fence. . . . A tired horse!

He could not bring himself to the computation of what three weeks back from the eleventh of November came to; his brain would not go at it. For the matter of that, he could remember precious little of the events of that three weeks in their due order. Christopher had certainly been about, relieving Marie Léonie at night and attending to him with a soft, goggle-eyed attentiveness that only a man with a saint for a mother could have put up. For hours and hours he would read aloud in Boswell’s “Life of Johnson,” for which Mark had had a fancy.

And Mark could remember drowsing off with satisfaction to the sound of the voice and drowsing with satisfaction awake again, still to the sound of the voice. For Christopher had the idea that if his voice went droning on it would make Mark’s slumbers more satisfactory.

Satisfaction. . . . Perhaps the last satisfaction that Mark was ever to know. For at that time-during those three weeks — he had not been able to believe that Christopher really meant to stick out about the matter of Groby. How could you believe that a fellow who waited on you with the softness of a girl built of meal-sacks was determined to . . . call it, break your heart. That was what it came to. . . . A fellow, too, who agreed in the most astounding manner with your views of things in general. A fellow, for the matter of that, who knew ten times as much as you did. A damn learned fellow. . . .

Mark had no contempt for learning-particularly for younger sons. The country was going to the dogs because of the want of education of the younger sons, whose business it was to do the work of the nation. It was a very old North Country rhyme that, that when land is gone and money spent, then learning is most excellent. N 0, he had no contempt for learning. He had never acquired any because he was too lazy: a little Sallust, a little Cornelius Nepos, a touch of Horace, enough French to read a novel and follow what Marie Léonie said . . ., Even to himself he called her Marie Léonie once he was married to her. It had made her jump at first!

But Christopher was a damn learned fellow. Their father, a younger son at the beginning, had been damn learned, too. They said that even at his death he had been one of the best Latinists in England — the intimate friend of that fellow Wannop, the Professor. . . . A great age at which to die by his own hand, his father’s! Why, if that marriage had been on the 20th October, 1918, his father, then dead, must have been born on the 20th October what? . . . 1834. . . . No, that was not possible. . . . No: ’44. His father, Mark knew, had been born in 1812 — before Waterloo!

Great stretches of time. Great changes! Yet Father had not been an incult sort of a man. On the contrary, if he was burly and determined, he was quiet. And sensitive. He had certainly loved Christopher very dearly — and Christopher’s mother.

Father was very tall; stooping like a toppling poplar towards the end. His head seemed very distant as if he hardly heard you. Iron-grey; short-whiskered! Absent-minded towards the end. Forgetting where he had put his handkerchief and where his spectacles were when he had pushed them up on to his forehead. . . . He had been a younger son who had never spoken to his father for forty years. Father’s father had never forgiven him for marrying Miss Selby of Biggen . . . not because it was marrying below him, but because his father had wanted their mother for his eldest son. . . . And they had been poor in their early child: hood, wandering over the Continent, to settle at last in Dijon, where they had kept some sort of state, a large house in the middle of the town with several servants. He never could imagine how their mother had done it on four hundred a year.

But she had. A hard woman. But Father had kept in with French people and corresponded with Professor Wannop and Learned Societies. He had always regarded him, Mark, as rather a dunce. . . . Father would sit reading in elegantly bound books, by the hour. His study had been one of the show-rooms of the house in Dijon.

Did he commit suicide? If so then Valentine Wannop was his daughter. There could not be much getting away from that, not that it mattered much. In that case Christopher would be living with his half — sister. . . . Not that it mattered much. It did not matter much, to him, Mark . . . but his father was the sort of man that it might drive to suicide.

A luckless sort of beggar, Christopher! . . . If you took the whole conglobulation at its worst — the father suiciding, the son living with his sister in open sin, the son’s son not his son, and Groby going over to Papist hands. . . . That was the sort of thing that would happen to a Tietjens of the Christopher variety: to any Tietjens who would not get out or get under as he, Mark, had done. Tietjenses took what they damn well got for doing what they damn well wanted to. Well, it landed them in that sort of post. . . . A last post, for, if that boy was not Christopher’s, Groby went out of Tietjens hands. There would be no more Tietjenses. Spelden might well be justified.

The grandfather of Father scalped by Indians in Canada in the war of 1812; the father dying in a place where he should not have been — taking what he got for it and causing quite a scandal for the Court of Victoria; the elder brother of Father killed drunk whilst fox-hunting; Father suicided; Christopher a pauper by his own act with a by-blow in his shoes. If then there were to be any more Tietjenses by blood . . . Poor little devils! They would be their own cousins. Something like that. . . .

And possibly none the worse off for that. . . . Either Spelden or Groby Great Tree had perhaps done for the others. Groby Great Tree had been planted to commemorate the birth of Great — grand-father who had died in a whoreshop — and it had always been whispered in Groby, amongst the children and servants, that Groby Great Tree did not like the house. Its roots tore chunks out of the foundations, and two or three times the trunk had had to be bricked into the front wall. It had been brought as a sapling from Sardinia at a time when gentlemen still thought about landscape gardening. A gentleman in those days consulted his heirs about tree planting. Should you plant a group of copper beeches against a group of white maples over against the ha-ha a quarter of a mile from the house so that the contrast seen from the ball-room windows should be agreeable — in thirty years’ time? In those days thought, in families, went in periods of thirty years, owner gravely consulting heir who should see that development of light and shade that the owner never would.

Nowadays the heir apparently consulted the owner 1’ as to whether the tenant who was taking the ancestral home furnished might not cut down trees in order to suit the sanitary ideas of the day. . . . An American day! Well, why not? Those people could not be expected to know how picturesque a contrast the tree would make against the roofs of Groby Great House when seen from Peel’s Moorside. They would never hear of Peel’s Moor-side, or John Peel, or the coat so greay. . . .

Apparently that was the meaning of the visit of that young colt and Mrs. de Bray Pape. They had come to ask his, Mark’s, sanction as owner to cut down Groby Great Tree. And then they had funked it and bolted. At any rate the boy was still talking earnestly to the woman in white over the hedge. As to where Mrs. de Bray Pape was, he had no means of knowing; she might be among the potato rows studying the potatoes of the poor for all he knew. He hoped she would not come upon Marie Léonie, because Marie Léonie would make short Work of Mrs. de Bray Pape and be annoyed on top of it.

But they were wrong to funk talking to Izim about cutting down Groby Great Tree. He cared nothing about it. Mrs. de Bray Pape might just as well have come and said cheerfully: “Hullo, old cock, We’re going to cut down your bally old tree and let some light into the house . . . .” if that was the way Americans talked when they were cheerful; he had no means of knowing. He never remembered to have talked to an American. . . . Oh, yes, to Cammy Fittleworth! She had certainly been a dreadfully slangy young woman before her husband came into the title. But then Fittleworth was confoundedly slangy too. They said he had to give up in the middle of a speech he tried to make in the House of Lords because he could not do without the word “toppin,” which upset the Lord Chancellor. . . . So there was no knowing what Mrs. de Bray Pape might not have said if she had not thought she was addressing asyphilitic member of an effete aristocracy mad about an old cedar tree. But she might just as well have cheer-fully announced it. He did not care. Groby Great Tree had never seemed to like him. It never seemed to like anybody. They say it never forgave the Tietjenses for transplanting it from nice warm Sardinia to that lugubrious climate. . . . That was what the servants said to the children and the children whispered to each other in the dark corridors.

But poor old Christopher! He was going to go mad if the suggestion were made to him. The barest hint! Poor old Christopher, who was now probably at that very minute in one of those beastly machines overhead, coming back from Groby. . . . If Christopher bad to buy a beastly South Country show — cottage, Mark wished he would not have bought it so near a confounded air — station. However, he expected, probably, that beastly Americans would come flying in the beastly machines to buy the beastly old junk. They did, indeed do so — sent by Mr. Schatzweiler, who was certainly efficient except in the sending of cheques.

Christopher had nearly jumped out of his skin — that is to say, he had sat as still as a lump of white marble-when he had gathered that Sylvia and, still more his own heir, wanted to let Groby furnished. He had said to Mark, over Sylvia’s first letter “You won’t let ’em?” and Mark knew the agony that was behind his tallowy mask and goggle eyes. . . . Perfectly white around the nostrils he went-that was the sign!

And it had been as near to an appeal as he had ever come — unless the request for a loan on Armistice Day could be regarded as an appeal. But Mark did not think that that could be regarded as a score. In their game neither of them had yet made a real score. Probably neither of them ever would; they were a stout pair of North Countrymen whatever else could be said against them.

No: it hadn’t been a score when Christopher had said: “You won’t let ’em let Groby?” the day before yesterday: Christopher had been in an agony, but he was not asking Mark not to let Groby be let; he was only seeking information as to how far Mark would let the degradation of the old place go. Mark had let him pretty well know that Groby might be pulled down and replaced by a terracotta hotel before he would stir a finger. On the other hand, Christopher had only to stir a finger and not a blade of grass between the cobbles in the Stillroom Yard could be grubbed up. . . . But by the rules of the game neither of them could give an order. Neither. Mark said to Christopher: “Groby’s yours!” Christopher said to Mark: “Groby’s yours 1” With perfect good-humour and coldness. So probably the old place would fall to pieces or Sylvia would turn it into a bawdy-house. . . . It was a good joke! A good, grim Yorkshire joke!

It was impossible to know which of them suffered more. Christopher, it is true, was having his heart broken because the house suffered — but, damn it, wasn’t Mark himself pretty well heart-broken because Christopher refused to accept the house from him? . . . It was impossible to know which!

Yes, his confounded heart had been broken on Armistice Day in the morning — between the morning and the morning after. . . . Yes: after Christopher had been reading Boswell aloud, night after night for three weeks. . . . Was that playing the game? Was it playing the game to get no sleep if you had not forgiven your brother. . . . Oh, no doubt it was playing the game. You don’t forgive your brother if he lets you down in a damn beastly way. . . . And of course it is letting a fellow down in a beastly — a beastly! — way to let him know that you believe he lives on the immoral earnings of his wife. . . . Mark had done that to Christopher. It was unforgivable all right. And equally of course you do not hurt your brother except on the lines circumscribed by the nature of the offence: you are the best friend he has — except on the lines circumscribed by the offence; and he will nurse you like a blasted soft woman-except in so far as the lines circumscribed by the offence do not preclude your ministrations.

For, obviously, the best thing Christopher could have done for his brother’s health would have been to have accepted the stewardship of Groby — but his brother could die and he himself could die before he would do that. It was nevertheless a pretty cruel affair. . . . Over Boswell the two brothers had got as thick as thieves with an astonishing intimacy — and with an astonishing similarity. If one of them made a comment on Bennett Langton it would be precisely the comment that the other had on his lips. It was What asses call telepathy nowadays . . . a warm, comfortable feeling, late at night with the light shaded from your eyes, the voice going on through the deep silence of London that awaited the crashes of falling bombs. . . . Well, Mark accepted Christopher’s dictum that he himself was an eighteenth-century bloke and was only forestalled when he had wanted to tell Christopher that he was more old — fashioned still — a sort of seventeenth-century Anglican who ought to be strolling in a grove with the Greek Testament beneath the arm and all. . . . And, hang it all, there was room for him! The land had not changed. . . . There were still the deep beech-woods making groves beside the ploughlands and the rooks rising lazily as the plough came towards them. The land had not changed. . . . Well, the breed had not changed. . . . There was Christopher. . . . Only, the times . . . they had changed. . . . The rooks and the ploughlands and the beeches and Christopher were there still. . . . But not the frame of mind in the day. . . . The sun might rise and go above the plough till it set behind the hedge, and the ploughman went off to the inn settle; and the moon could do the same. But they would — neither sun nor moon — look on the spit of Christopher in all their journeys. Never. They might as well expect to see a mastodon. . . . And he, Mark, himself was an old-fashioned buffer. That was all right. Judas Iscariot himself was an old — fashioned ass, once upon a time!

But it was almost on the edge of not playing the game for Christopher to let that intimacy establish itself and all the time to cherish that unforgivingness. . . . Not quite not playing the game: but almost. For hadn’t Mark held out feelers? Hadn’t he made concessions? Hadn’t his very marrying of Marie Léonie been by way of a concession to Christopher? Didn’t Christopher, if the truth was to be known, want Mark to marry Marie Léonie because he, Christopher, wanted to marry Valentine Wannop and hadn’t a hope? If the truth were known. . . . Well, he had made that concession to Christopher, who was a sort of a parson anyhow. But ought Christopher to have exacted — to have telepathically willed — that concession if he wasn’t himself going to concede something? Ought he to have forced him, Mark, to accept his mooning womanly services when the poor devil was already worn out with his military duties of seeing old tins cleaned out day after day, if he meant to become a beastly old-furniture dealer and refuse Groby? For, upon his soul, till the morning of Armistice Day, Mark had accepted Christopher’s story of Mr. Schatzweiler as merely a good-humoured, grim threat. . . . A sort of a feint at a threat. . . .

Well, probably it was playing the game all right: if Christopher thought it was jonnock, jonnock it was!

But . . . a damn beastly shock. . . . Why, he had been practically convalescent, he had been out of bed in a dressing-gown and had told Lord Wolstonmark that he could pile in as many papers as he liked from the Office. . . . And then Christopher, without a hat and in a beastly civilian suit of light mulberry-coloured Harris tweed, had burst into the room with a beastly piece of old furniture under his arm. . . . A sort of inlaid toy writing-desk. A model. For cabinet-makers! A fine thing to bring into a convalescent bedroom, to a man quietly reading Form T.O. LOUWR, 1962, E I7 of the 10/11/18, in front of a clean fire. . . . And chalk-white about the gills the fellow was-with an awful lot of silver in his hair. . . . What age was he? Forty? Forty-three? God knew!

Forty. . . . He wanted to borrow forty quid on that beastly piece of furniture. To have an Armistice Day Beanfeast and set up house with his gal! Forty quid! My God! Mark felt his bowels turning over within him with disgust. . . . The gal — that fellow’s half-sister as like as not — was waiting in an empty house for him to go and seduce her. In order to celebrate the salvation of the world by seven million deaths!

If you seduce a girl you don’t do it on forty pounds: you accept Groby and three, seven, ten thousand a year. So he had told Christopher.

And then he had got it. Full in the face. Christopher was not going to accept a penny from him. Never. Not ever! . . . No doubt about that, either. That fact had gone into Mark as a knife goes into the stag’s throat. It had hurt as much, but it hadn’t killed! Damn it, it might as well have! It might as well have. . . . Does a fellow do that to his own brother just because his own brother has called him . . . what is the word? Maquereau! . . . Probably a maquereau is worse than a pimp. . . . The difference between a flea and a louse, as Dr. Johnson said.

Eh, but Christopher was bitter! . . . Apparently he had gone round first to Sir John Robert-son’s with the jigamaree. Years before, Sir John had promised to buy it for a hundred pounds.

It was a special sort of model signed by some duke of a Bath cabinet-maker in 1762. . . . Wasn’t that the year of the American Rebellion? Well, Christopher had bought it in a junk — shop of sorts for a fiver and Sir John had promised him a hundred quid. He collected cabinet-makers’ models: extraordinarily valuable they were. Christopher had spat out that this was worth a thousand dollars. . . . Thinking of his old-furniture customers!

When Christopher had used that word — with the blue pebbles sticking out of his white-lard head-Mark had felt the sweat break out all over him. He had known it was all up. . . . Christopher had gone on: you expected him to spit electric sparks but his voice was wooden. Sir John had said to him:

“Eh, no, mon. You’re a fine soldier now, raping half the girls in Flanders and Ealing and asking us to regard you as heroes. Fine heroes. And now you’re safe. . . . A hundred pounds is a price to a Christian that is faithful to his lovely wife. Five pounds is as much as I’ll give you for the model, and be thankful it is five, not one, for old sake’s sake!”

That was what Sir John Robertson had said to Christopher: that was what the world was like to serving soldiers in that day. You don’t have to wonder that Christopher was bitter — even to his own brother with the sweat making his under-linen icy. Mark had said:

“My good chap. I won’t lend you a penny on that idiotic jigamaree. But I’ll write you a cheque for a thousand pounds this minute. Give me my cheque-book from the table . . . .”

Marie Léonie had come into the room on hearing Christopher’s voice. She liked to hear the news from Christopher. And she liked Christopher and Mark to have heated discussions. She had observed that they did Mark good: on the day when Christopher had first come there, three weeks before, when they certainly had heatedly discussed she had observed that Mark’s temperature had fallen from ninety-nine point six to ninety-eight point two. In two hours. . . . After all, if a Yorkshire man can quarrel he can live. They were like that, those others, she said.

Christopher had turned on her and said:

“Ma belle amie m’attend a ma maison; nous voulons célébrer avec mes camarades de régiment. Je n’ai pas le sous. Prétez moi quarante livres, je vous en prie, madame!” He had added that he would leave his cabinet as a pledge. He was as stiff as a sentry outside Buckingham Palace. She had looked at Mark with some astonishment. After all, she might well be astonished. He himself had made no sign and suddenly Christopher had exclaimed;

“Prétez les moi, prétez les moi, pour l’amour de Dieu!”

Marie Léonie had gone a little white, but she had turned up her skirt and turned down her stocking and took out the notes.

“Pour le dieu d’Amour, monsieur, je veux bien,” she had said. . . . You never knew what a French-woman would not say. That was out of an old song.

But the sweat burst out all over his face at the recollection: great drops of sweat.

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