Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 7

MARIE LEONIE, a strong taste of apples in her mouth, strong savours of apples on the air, wasps around her and as if a snow-drift of down descending about her feet, was frowning seriously over Burgundy bottles into which ran cider from a glass tube that she held to their necks. She frowned because the task was serious and engrossing, because the wasps annoyed her and because she was resisting an impulse inside herself. It told her that something ailed Mark and urged her to go and look at him.

It annoyed her because, as a rule — a rule so strong that it had assumed the aspect of a regulation-she felt presages of something ailing Mark only at night. Only at night‘. During the day usually she felt in her for intérizur that Mark was like what he was only because he wanted so to be. His glance was too virile and dominant to let you think other-wise — the dark, liquid, direct glance! But at nightfall — or at any rate shortly after supper when she had retired to her room terrible premonitions of disaster to Mark visited her. He was dying where he lay; he was beset by the spectral beings of the countryside; robbers, even, had crept upon him, though that was unreasonable. For all the countryside knew that Mark was paralysed and unable to store wealth in his mattress. . . . Still, nefarious strangers might see him and imagine that he kept his gold repeater watch beneath his pillow. . . . So she would rise a hundred times in a night and, going to the low, diamond-casement window, would lean out and listen. But there would be no sound: the wind in the leaves; the cry of water-birds over head. The dim light would be in the hut, seen unmoving through the apple — boughs.

Now, however, in broad daylight, towards the hour of tea, with the little maid on a stool beside her plucking the boiling-hens that were to go to market next day, with the boxes of eggs on their shelves, each egg wired to the bottom of its box, waiting till she had time to date-stamp it — in the open potting-shed in the quiet, broad light of a summer day she was visited by:1 presage of some-thing ailing Mark. She resented it, but she was not the woman to resist it.

There was, however, nothing to warrant it. From the corner of the house to which she proceeded she could see quite well the greater part of Mark’s solitary figure. Gunning, being talked to‘ by the English lord, held a spare horse by the bridle and was looking at Mark over the hedge. He exhibited no emotions. A young man was walking along the inside of the hedge between it and the raspberries. That was no affair of hers: Gunning was not protesting. The head and shoulders of a young woman — or it might be another young man — were proceeding along the outside of the hedge nearly level with the first one. That was equally no affair of hers. Probably they were looking at the bird’s nest. There was some sort of bird’s nest, she had heard, in that thick hedge. There was no end to the folly of the English in the country as in the town: they would waste time over everything. This bird was a bottle . . . bottle-something, and Christopher and Valentine and the parson and the doctor and the artist who lived down the hill were crazy about it. They walked on tiptoe when they were within twenty yards. Gunning was allowed to trim the hedge, but apparently the birds knew Gunning. . . . For Marie Léonie, all birds were “moineaux”; as who should say “sparrers”; in London they called them that — just as all flowers were “giroflées”— as you might say wall-flowers. . . . No wonder this nation was going to rack and min when it wasted its time over preserving the nests of sparrers and naming innumerable wall-flowers! The country was well enough — a sort of suburb of Caen: but the people! . . . no wonder William, of Falaise, in Normandy subjugated them with such case.

Now she had wasted five minutes, for the glass tubes, hinged on rubber, that formed her siphon from barrel to bottle had had perforce to be taken out of the spile-hole; the air had entered into it, and she would have to put it back and suck once more at the tube until the first trickle of cider entered her mouth. She disliked having to do that; it wasted the cider and she disliked the flavour in the afternoon when one had lunched. The little maid also would say: “A-oh, melady-ship, Ah du call thet queer!” . . . Nothing would cure that child of saying that though she was other-wise rage at docile. Even Gunning scratched his head at the sight of those tubes.

Could these savages never understand that if you want to have cidr: moureux — foaming — you must have as little sediment as possible? And that in the bottom of casks, even if they had not been moved for a long time, there will always be sediment — particularly if you set up a How in the liquid by running it from a tap near the bottom. So you siphon off the top of the great casks for bottling moumux, and drink the rest from the cask, and run the thickest into little thin — wood casks with many hoops for freezing in the winter. . . . To make calvados where you cannot have alembics because of the excise. . . . In this unhappy country you may not have alembics for the distilling of apple-jack, plum-brandy or other fines— because of the excise! Quel pays! Quels gens!

They lacked industry, frugality — and, above all, spirit! Look at that poor Valentine, hiding in her room upstairs because there were people about whom she suspected of being people from the English Lord’s house. . . . By rights that poor Valentine should be helping her with the bottling and ready to sell that lugubrious old furniture to visitors whilst her lord was away buying more old rubbish. . . . And she was distracted because she could not find some prints. They represented — Marie Léonie was well aware because she had heard the facts several times — street criers of ambulant wares in London years ago. There were only eight of these to be found. Where were the other four? The customer, an English lady of title, was anxious for them. As presents for an immediate wedding! Monsieur my brother — in-law had come upon the four that were to make up the set at a sale two days before. He had recounted with satisfaction how he had found them on the grass. . . . It was supposed that he had brought them home; but they were not in the warehouse at Cramp the carpenter’s, they were not to be found left in the cart. They were in no drawer or press. . . . What was to prove that man beau-frére had brought them home from the sale? He was not there: he was gone for a day and a half. Naturally he would be gone for a day and a half when he was most needed. . . . And where was he gone, leaving his young wife in that nervous condition. For a day and a half! He had never before been gone for a day and a half. . . . There was then something brewing; it was in the air; it was in her bones. . . . It was like that dreadful day of the Armistice when this miserable land betrayed the beautiful pays de Frame.’ . . When monsieur had borrowed forty pounds of her. . . . In the name of heaven why did not he borrow another forty — or eighty — or a hundred, rather than be distracted and distract Mark and his unhappy girl? . . .

She was not unsympathetic, that girl. She had civilization. She could talk of Philemon and Baucis. She had made her bachot, she was what you would call fille de famille. . . . But without chic. . . . Without . . . Without . . . Well, she neither displayed enough erudition to be a blas bleu— though she had enough erudition! — nor enough chin to be a femme légere— a poule who would faire la noce with her gallant. Monsieur the brother-in-law was no gay spark. But you never know with a man. . . . The cut of a skirt; a twist of the hair. . . . Though today there was no hair to twist: but there is the equivalent.

And it was a fact that you never knew a man. Look at the case of Eleanor Dupont, who lived for ten years with Duchamp of the Sorbonne. . . . Eleanor would never attend scrupulously to her attire because her man were blue spectacles and was a savant. . . . But what: happened. . . . There came along a little piece with a hat as large as cart-wheel covered with green-stuff and sleeves up above her ears — as the mode was then. . . .

That had been a lesson to her, Marie Léonie, who had been a girl at the time. She had deter-mined that if she achieved a collage sérieux with a monsieur of eighty and as blind as a bat she would study the modes of the day right down to the latest perfume. These messieurs did not know it, but they moved among femmes du monde and the fashionable cocottes, and however much she at home might be the little brown bird of the domestic hearth, the lines of her dresses, her hair, her personal odour, must conform. Mark did not imagine; she did not suppose he had ever seen a fashionable journal in her apartments that were open to him, or had ever suspected that she walked in the Row on a Sunday when he was away. . . . But she had studied these things like another. And more. For it is difficult to keep with the fashion and at the same time appear as if you were a serious petite bourgeoise. But she had done it; and observe the results. . . .

But that poor Valentine. . . . Her man was attached enough: and well he ought to be, considering the affair in which he had landed her. But always there comes the pic des tempêtes, the Cap Horn, round which you must go. It is the day when your man looks at you and says: “H’m, h’m,” and considers if the candle is not more valuable than the game! Ah, then. . . . There are wise folk who put that at the seventh year; other wise ones, at the second; others again, at the eleventh. . . . But in fact you may put it at any day on any year — to the hundredth. . . . And that poor Valentine with four spots of oil on her only skirt but two. And that so badly hung, though the stuff no doubt was once good. One must concede that! They make admirable tweeds in this country: better certainly than in Roubaix. But is that enough to save a country — or a woman dependent on a man who has introduced her into a bad affair?

A voice behind her said:

“I see you have plenty of eggs!”— an unusual voice of a sort of breathless nervousness. Marie Léonie continued to hold the mouth of her tube into the neck of a burgundy bottle; into this she had already introduced a small screw of sifted sugar and an extremely minute portion of a powder that she got from a pharmacist of Rouen. This, she understood, made the cider of a rich brownness.

She did not see why cider should be brown, but it . was considered to be less fortifying if it were light golden. She continued also to think about Valentine, who would be twittering with nerves at the window whose iron — leaded casement was open above their heads. She would have put down her Latin book and have crept to the window to listen.

The little girl beside Marie Léonie had risen from the three-legged stool and held a dead, white fowl with a nearly naked breast by its neck. She said hoarsely:

“These ere be er Ladyship’s settins of prize Reds.” She was blonde, red-faced and wore on her dull fair hair a rather large cap, on her thin body a check blue cotton gown. “Arf a crownd a piece the heggs be or twenty-four shillings a dozen if you takes a gross.”

Marie Léonie heard the hoarse voice with some satisfaction. This girl whom they had only had for a fortnight seemed to be satisfactory mentally; it was not her business to sell the eggs but Gunning’s; nevertheless she knew the details. She did not turn round: it was not her business to talk to anyone who wanted to buy eggs and she had no curiosity as to customers. She had too much else to think about. The voice said:

“Half a crown seems a great deal for an egg. What is that in dollars? This must be that tyranny over edibles by the producer of which one has heard so much.”

“Tiddn nothin in dollars,” the girl said. “Arf a dollar is two bob. Arf a crownd is two n six.”

The conversation continued, but it grew dim in Marie Léonie’s thoughts. The child and the voice disputed as to what a dollar was — or so it appeared, for Marie Leonie was not familiar with either of the accents of the disputants. The child was a combative child. She drove both Gunning and the cabinet — maker Cramp with an organ of brass. Of tin perhaps, like a penny whistle. When she was not grubbily working she read books with avidity — books about Blood if she could get them. She had an exaggerated respect for the Family, but none for any other soul in the world. . . .

Marie Léonie considered that, by now, she might have got down to the depth of the cask where you find sediment. She ran some cider into a clear glass, stopping the tube with her thumb. The cider was clear enough to let her bottle another dozen, she judged; then she would send for Gunning to take the spile-bung out of the next cask. Four sixty-gallon casks she had to attend to; two of them were done. She began to tire: she was not unfatiguable if she was indefatigable. She began at any rate to feel drowsy. She wished Valentine could have helped her. But that girl had not much backbone, and she, Marie Léonie, acknowledged that for the sake of the future it was good that she should rest and read books in Latin or Greek. And avoid nervous encounters.

She had tucked her up under an eiderdown on their four-post bed because They would have all the windows open and currents of air must, above all, be avoided by women. . . . Elle had smiled and said that it had once been her dream to read the works of Aeschyle beside the blue Mediterranean. They had kissed each other. . . .

The maid beside her was saying that orfn n orfn she’d eared er farver oo was a dealer wen a lot of of ens, say, ad gone to three an nine, say “Make it two arf dollars?” They didn ave dollars in thet country but they did ave arf dollars. N Capt’n Kidd th’ pirate: e ad dollars, n pieces of eight n moidors too! A wasp annoyed Marie Léonie; it buzzed almost on her nose, retired, returned, made a wide circuit. There were already several wasps struggling in the glass of cider she had just drawn; there were others in circles round spots of cider on the slats of wood on which the barrels were arranged. They drew in their tails and then expanded, ecstatically. Yet only two nights before she and Valentine had gone with Gunning all over the orchard with a lantern, a trowel and a bottle of prussic acid, stopping up holes along the paths and in banks. She had liked the experience; the darkness, the ring of light from the lantern on the rough grass; the feeling that she was out, near Mark, and that yet Gunning and his lantern kept spiritual visitors away. . . . What she suffered between the desire to visit her man in the deep nights and the possibility of coming up against revenants. . . . Was it reasonable? . . . What women had to suffer for their men! Even if they were faithful. . . . What the unfortunate Elle had not suffered. . . . Even on what you might call her nuit de notes. . . . At the time it had seemed incomprehensible. Marie Léonie had had no details. It had merely seemed fantastic: possibly even tragic because Mark had taken it so hardly. Truly she believed he had become insane. At two in the morning, beside Mark’s bed. They had — the two brothers — exchanged words of considerable violence whilst the girl shivered. And was determined. That girl had been determined. She would not go back to her mother. At two in the morning. . . . Well, if you refuse to go back to your mother at two in the morning you kick indeed your slipper over the mill!

The details of that night came back to her, amongst wasps and beneath the conversation of the unseen woman in the shed where the water ran in the trough. She had set the bottles in the trough because it is a good thing to cool cider before the process of fermentation in the bottles begins. The bottles with their shining necks of green glass were an agreeable spectacle. The lady behind her back was talking of Oklahoma. . . . The cowboy with the large nose that she had seen on the film at the Piccadilly Cinema had come from Oklahoma. It was, no doubt, somewhere in America. She had been used to go to the Piccadilly Cinema on a Friday. You do not go to the theatre on a Friday if you are bien pensant, but you may regard the cinema as being to the theatre what a repas maigre is as against a meal with meat. . . . The lady speaking behind her came apparently from Oklahoma: she had eaten prairie chickens in her time. On a farm. Now, however, she was very rich. Or so she told the little maid. Her husband could buy half Lord Fittleworth’s estate and not miss the money. She said that if only people here would take example. . . .

On Armistice evening they had come thumping on her door. The bell had failed to wake her after all the noise in the street of that day. . . . She had sprung into the middle of the floor and flown to save Mark . . . from an air raid. She had for-gotten that it was the Armistice. . . . But the knocking had gone on on the door.

Before it had stood monsieur the brother-in-law and that girl in a dark blue girl-guide’s sort of uniform. Both chalk-white and weary to death. As if they leaned against one another. . . . She had been for bidding them go away, but Mark had come out of the bedroom. In his nightshirt with his legs bare. And hairy! He had bidden them come in, roughly, and had got back into bed. . . . That had been the last time he had been on his legs! Now, he having been in bed so long, his legs were no longer hairy, but polished. Like thin glazed bones!

She had recalled his last gesture. He had positively used a gesture, like a man raving. . . . And, indeed, he was raving. At Christopher. And dripping with sweat. Twice she had wiped his face whilst they shouted at each other.

It had been difficult to understand what they said because they had spoken a sort of patois. Naturally they returned to the language they had spoken in their childhoods — when they were excited, these unexcitable people! It resembled the patois of the Bretons. Harsh. . . .

And, for herself, she had been all concerned for the girl. Naturally she had been concerned for the girl. One is a woman. . . . At first she had taken her for a little piece from the streets. . . . But even for a little piece from the streets . . . Then she had noticed that there had been no rouge; no imitation pearl necklace. . . .

Of course when she had gathered that Mark was pressing money on them she had felt different. Different in two ways. It could not be a little piece. And then her heart had contracted at the idea of money being given away. They might be ruined. It might be these people instead of her Paris nephews who would pillage her corpse. But the brother-in-law pushed the thought of money away from him with both hands. If she —Elle— wanted to go with him she must share his fortunes. . . . What a country! What people!

There had seemed to be no understanding them then. . . . It had appeared that Mark insisted that the girl should stop there with her lover: the lover, on the contrary, insisted that she should go home to her mother. The girl kept saying that on no account would she leave Christopher. He could not be left. He would die if he was left. . . . And, indeed, that brother — in — law had seemed sick enough. He panted worse than Mark.

She had eventually taken the girl to her own room. A little, agonized, fair creature. She had felt inclined to enfold her in her arms but she had not done so. Because of the money. . . . She might as well have. It was impossible to get these people to touch money. She would now give no little to lend that girl twenty pounds for a frock and some under-garments.

The girl had sat there without speaking. It had seemed for hours. Then some drunken man on the church steps opposite had begun to play the bugle. Long calls. . . . Tee . . . Teee . . . TEEEE. . . . Ta — heee. . . . To — hee. . . . Continuing for ever. . . .

Valentine had begun to cry. She had said that it was dreadful. But you could not object. It was the Last Post they were playing. For the Dead. You could not object to their playing the Last Post for the Dead that night. Even if it was a drunken man who played and even if it drove you mad. The Dead ought to have all they could get.

If she had not made the necessary allowances that would have seemed to Marie Léonie an exaggerated sentiment. The English bugle — notes could do no good to the French dead and the English losses were so negligible in quantity that it hardly seemed worth while to become émotionnée when their funeral call was played by a drunken man. The French papers estimated the English losses at a few hundreds: what was that as against the millions of her own people? . . . But she gathered that this girl had gone through something terrible that night with the wife, and being too proud to show emotion over her personal vicissitudes she pretended to find an outlet because of the sounds of that bugle. . . . Well, it was mournful enough. She had understood it when Christopher, putting his face in at the crack of the door, had whispered to her that he was going to stop the bugle because its sound was intolerable to Mark.

The girl apparently had been in a reverie, for she had not heard him. She, Marie Léonie, had gone to look at Mark, and the girl sat there, on the bed. Mark was by then quite quiescent. The bugle had stopped. To cheer him she had made a few remarks about the inappropriateness of playing, for a negligible number of dead, a funeral call at three in the morning. If it had been for the French dead — or if her country had not been betrayed! It was betraying her country to have given those monsters an armistice when they were far from their borders. Merely that was treachery on the part of these sham Allies. They should have gone right through those monsters slaying them by the million, defenceless, and then they should have laid waste their country with fire and sword. Let them, too, know what it was to suffer as France had suffered. It was treachery enough not to have done that, and the child unborn would suffer for it.

But there they waited, then, even after that treachery had been done, to know what were the terms of even that treachery. They might even now not intend to be going to Berlin. . . . What, then, was Life for?

Mark had groaned. In effect he was a good Frenchman. She had seen to that. The girl had come into the room. She could not bear to be alone. . . . What a night of movement and cross movement. She had begun to argue with Mark. Hadn’t there, she had asked, been enough of suffering? He agreed that there had been enough of suffering. But there must be more. . . . Even out of justice to the poor bloody Germans. . . . He had called them the poor bloody Germans. He had said that it was the worst disservice you could do your foes not to let them know that remorseless consequences follow determined actions. To interfere in order to show fellows that if they did what they wanted they need not of necessity take what they got for it was in effect to commit a sin against God. If the Germans did not experience that in the sight of the world there was an end of Europe and the world. What was to hinder endless recurrences of what had happened near a place called Gemmenich on the 4th of August, 1914., at six o’clock in the morning? There was nothing to hinder it. Any other state from the smallest to the largest might . . .

The girl had interrupted to say that the world had changed, and Mark, lying back exhausted on his pillows, had said with a sort of grim sharpness:

“It is you who say it. . . . Then you may run the world. . . . I know nothing about it . . . .” He appeared exhausted.

It was singular the way those two discussed-discussed “the situation” at three-thirty in the morning. Well, nobody wanted to be asleep that night, it seemed. Even in that obscure street mobs went by, shouting and playing concertinas. She had never heard Mark discuss before — and she was never to hear him discuss again. He appeared to regard that girl with a sort of aloof indulgence; as if he were fond of her but regarded her as over-learned, too young, devoid of all experience. And Marie Léonie had watched them and listened with intentness. In twenty years these three weeks had for the first time showed her her man in contact with his people. The contemplation had engrossed her.

She could, nevertheless, see that her man was exhausted in his inner being and obviously that girl was tried beyond endurance. Whilst she talked she appeared to listen for distant sounds. . . . She kept on recurring to the idea that punishment was abhorrent to the modern mind. Mark stuck to his point that to occupy Berlin was not punishment, but that not to occupy Berlin was to commit an intellectual sin. The consequence of invasion is counter-invasion and symbolical occupation, as the consequence of over-pride is humiliation. For the rest of the world, he knew nothing of it; for his own country that was logic — the logic by which she had lived. To abandon that logic was to abandon clearness of mind: it was mental cowardice. To show the world Berlin occupied, with stands of arms and colours on her public places, was to show that England respected logic. Not to show the world that, was to show that England was mentally cowardly. We dared not put the enemy nations to pain because we shrank from the contemplation.

Valentine had said: “There has been too much suffering!”

He had said:

“Yes, you are afraid of suffering. . . . But England is necessary to the world. . . . To my world. . . . Well, make it your world and it may go to rack and ruin how it will. I am done with it. But then . . . you must accept the responsibility. A world with England presenting the spectacle of moral cowardice would be a world on a lower plane. . . . If you lower the record for the mile you lower the standard of blood — stock. Try to think of that. If Persimmon had not achieved what it did the French Grand Prix would be less of an event and the trainers at Maisons Lafitte would be less efficient. And the jockeys. And the stable lads. And the sporting writers. . . . A world profits by the example of a steadfast nation . . . .”

Suddenly Valentine said:

“Where is Christopher i” with such intenseness that it was like a blow.

Christopher had gone out. She exclaimed:

“But you must not let him go out. . . . He is not fit to go out alone. . . . He has gone out to go back . . . .”

Mark said:

“Don’t go . . . .” For she had got to the door.

“He went out to stop the Last Post. But you may play the Last Post for me. Perhaps he has gone back to the Square. He had presumably better see what has happened to his wife. I should not myself.”

Valentine had said with extraordinary bitterness:

“He shall not. He shall not.” She had gone.

It had come through to Marie Léonie partly then and partly subsequently that Christopher’s wife had turned up at Christopher’s empty house, that was in the Square a few yards away only. They had gone back late at night probably for purposes of love and had found her there. She had come for the purpose of telling them that she was going to be operated on for cancer, so that with their sensitive natures they could hardly contemplate going to bed together at that moment.

It had been a good lie. That Mrs. Tietjens was a maitresse femme. There was no denying that. She herself was engaged for those others both by her own inclinations and the strong injunctions of her husband, but Mme Tietjens was certainly ingenious.

She had managed to incommode and discredit that pair almost as much as any pair could be incommoded and discredited, although they were the most harmless couple in the world.

They had certainly not had an agreeable festival on that Armistice Day. Apparently one of the officers present at their dinner of celebration had gone raving mad; the wife of another of Christopher’s comrades of the regiment had been rude to Valentine; the colonel of the regiment had taken the opportunity to die with every circumstance of melodrama. Naturally all the other officers had run away and had left Christopher and Valentine with the madman and the dying colonel on their hands.

An agreeable voyage de noces. . . . It appeared that they had secured a four-wheel cab in which, with the madman and the other, they had driven to Balham — an obscure suburb, with sixteen celebrants hanging all over the outside of the cab and two on the horse’s back — at any rate for a couple of miles from Trafalgar Square. They were not, of course, interested in the interior of the cab; they were merely gay because there was to be no more suffering. No doubt Valentine and Christopher had got rid of the madman somewhere in Chelsea at an asylum for shell-shock cases; but the authorities would not take the colonel, so they had driven on to Balham, the colonel making dying speeches about the late war, his achievements, the money he owed Christopher. . . . Valentine had appeared to find that extremely trying. The man died in the cab.

They had had to walk back into Town because the driver of the four-wheeler was so upset by the death in his cab that he could not drive. More-over, the horse was foundered. It had been twelve midnight before they reached Trafalgar Square. They had had to struggle through packed crowds nearly all the way. Apparently they were happy at the accomplishment of their duty — or their benevolence. They stood on the top step of St. Martin’s Church, dominating the square, that was all illuminated and packed and roaring, with bonfires made of the paving wood and omnibuses, and the Nelson Column going up and the fountain — basins full of drunkards, and orators and bands. . . . They stood on the top step, drew deep breaths and fell into each other’s arms. . . . For the first time — though apparently they had loved each other for a lustre or more. . . . What people!

Then, at the top of the stairs in the house in the Inn, they had perceived Sylvia, all in white! . . .

Apparently she had been informed that Christopher and that girl were in communication — by a lady who did not like Christopher because she owed him money. A Lady Macmaster. Apparently there was no one in the world who did not dislike Christopher because they owed him money. The colonel and the lunatic and the husband of the lady who had been rude to Valentine . . . all! all! Right down to Mr. Schatzweiler, who had only paid Christopher one cheque for a few dollars out of a great sum and had then contracted a nervous breakdown on account of the sufferings he had gone through as a prisoner of war. . . .

But what sort of a man was that Christopher to have in his hands the fortunes of a woman? . . . Any woman!

Those were practically the last words her Mark had ever spoken to her, Marie Léonie. She had been supporting him whilst he drank a tisane she had made in order that he might sleep, and he had said gravely:

“It is not necessary that I should ask you to be kind to Mademoiselle Wannop. Christopher is incapable of looking after her . . . .” His last words, for immediately afterwards the telephone bell had rung. He had just before seemed to have a good deal of temperature, and it had been whilst his eyes were goggling at her, the thermometer that she had stuck in his mouth gleaming on his dark lips, and whilst she was regretting letting him be tormented by his family that the sharp drilling of the telephone had sounded from the hall. Immediately the strong German accent of Lord Wolstonmark had, with its accustomed disagreeableness, burred in her ear. He had said that the Cabinet was still sitting and they desired to know at once the code that Mark used in his communications with various ports.

His second in command appeared to be lost amongst the celebrations of that night. Mark had said with a sort of grim irony from the bedroom that if they wanted to stop his transport going out they might just as well not use cypher. If they wanted to use a twopenny-halfpenny economy as window-dressing for the elections they’d have to have they might as well give it as much publicity as they could. Besides, he did not believe they would get into Germany with the transport they had. A good deal had been smashed lately.

The Minister had said with a sort of heavy joy that they were not going into Germany: and that had been the most dreadful moment of Marie Léonie’s life; but with her discipline she had just simply repeated the words to Mark. He had then said something she did not quite catch: and he would not repeat what he had said. She said as much to Lord Wolstonmark, and the chuckling accent said that he supposed that that was the sort of news that would rattle the old boy. But one must adapt oneself to one’s day; the times were changed.

She had gone from the instrument to look at Mark. She spoke to him; she spoke to him again. And again — rapid words of panic. His face was dark purple and congested; he gazed straight before him. She raised him; he sank back inertly.

She remembered going to the telephone and speaking in French to the man at the other end.

She had said that the man at the other end was a German and a traitor; her husband should never speak to him or his fellows again. The man had said: “Eh, what’s that? Eh . . . Who are you?”

With appalling shadows chasing up and down in her mind, she had said:

“I am Lady Mark Tietjens. You have murdered my husband. Clear yourself from off my line, murderer!”

It had been the first time she had ever given herself that name; it was indeed the first time she had ever spoken in French to that Ministry. But Mark had finished with the Ministry, with the Government, with the nation. . . . With the world.

As soon as she could get that man off the wire she had rung up Christopher. He had come round with Valentine in tow. It had certainly not been much of a nuit dc note: for that young couple.

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