Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 2

NO, you could not ignore Fittleworth. As a fox — hunting squire he might be an extinct monster — though, then again, he might not: there was no knowing. But as a wicked, dark adept with bad women, and one come of a race that had been adepts with Women good and bad for generations, he was about as dangerous a person as you could find. That gross, slow, earthy, obstinate fellow Gunning could stand grouchily up to Fittleworth, answer him back and chance what Fittleworth could do to him. So could any cottager. But then they were his people. She wasn’t . . . she, Sylvia Tietjens, and she did not believe she could afford to outface him. Nor could half England.

Old Campion wanted India — probably she herself wanted Campion to have India. Groby Great Tree was cut down, and if you have not the distinction, if you rid yourself of the distinction, of Groby Great Tree just to wound a man to the heart — you may as well take India. Times were changing, but there was no knowing how the circumstances of a man like Fittleworth changed. He sat his horse like a monkey and gazed out over his land as his people had done for generations, bastard or legitimate. And it was all very well to regard him as merely a country squire married to a Transatlantic nobody and so out of it. He hopped up to London — he and his Cammie too — and he passed unnoticeably about the best places and could drop a word or so here and there; and for all the Countess’ foreign and unknown origin, she had access to ears to which it was dangerous to have access-dangerous for aspirants to India. Campion might have his war — services and his constituency. But Cammie Fittleworth was popular in the right places, and Fittleworth had his hounds and, when it came even to constituencies, the tradesmen of a couple of counties. And was wicked.

It had been obvious to her for a long time that God would one day step in and intervene for the protection of Christopher. After all, Christopher was a good man — a rather sickeningly good man. It is, in the end, she reluctantly admitted, the function of God and the invisible Powers to see that a good man shall eventually be permitted to settle down to a stuffy domestic life . . . even to chaffering over old furniture. It was a comic affair — but it was the sort of affair that you had to admit. God is probably — and very rightly — on the side of the stuffy domesticities. Otherwise the world could not continue — the children would not be healthy. And certainly God desired the production of large crops of healthy children. Mind doctors of today said that all cases of nervous breakdown occurred in persons whose parents had not led harmonious lives.

So Fittleworth might well have been selected as the lightning conductor over the house of Tietjens. And the selection was quite a good one on the part of the Unseen Powers. And no doubt predestined. There was no accident about Mark’s being under the aegis — if that was what you called it — of the Earl. Mark had for long been one of the powers of the land, so had Fittleworth. They had moved in the same spheres — the rather mysterious spheres of Good People — who ruled the destinies of the nation in so far as the more decorative and more splendid jobs were concerned. They must have met about, here and there, constantly for years. And no doubt Mark had indicated that it was in that neighbourhood that he wanted to end his days simply because he wanted to be near the Fittleworths, who could be relied on to look after his Marie Leonie and the rest of them.

For the matter of that, Fittleworth himself, like God, was on the side of the stuffy domesticities and on the side of women who were in the act of producing healthy children. Early in life he had had a woman to whom he was said to have been hopelessly attached and whom he had acquired in romantic circumstances — a famous dancer whom he had snapped up under the nose of a very Great Person indeed. And the woman had died in child-birth — or had given birth to an infant child and gone mad and committed suicide after that achievement. At any rate, for months and months, Fittleworth’s friends had had to sit up night after night with him so that he might not kill himself.

Later — after he had married Cammie in the search for a domesticity that, except for his hounds, he too had made really almost stuffy — he had interested himself — and of course his Countess — in the cause of providing tranquil conditions for women before childbirth. They had put up a perfectly lovely lying-in almshouse right under their own windows, down there.

So there it was — and, as she took her sideways glance at Fittleworth, high up there in the air beside her, she was perfectly aware that she might be in for such a duel with him as had seldom yet fallen to her lot.

He had begun by saying: “God damn it, Campion, ought Helen Lowther to be down there?” Then he had put it, as upon her, Sylvia’s information, that the cottage was in effect a disorderly house. But he had added: “If what you say is true?”

That of course was distinctly dangerous, for Fittleworth probably knew quite well that it had been at her, Sylvia’s, instigation that Helen Lowther war down there. And he was letting her know that if it was at her instigation and if the house was really in her belief a brothel his Countess would be {rightfully displeased. Frightfully.

Helen Lowther was of no particular importance, except to the Countess — and of course to Michael. She was one of those not unattractive Americans that drift over here and enjoy themselves with frightfully simple things. She liked visiting ruins and chattering about nothing in particular, and galloping on the downs and talking to old servants, and she liked the adoration of Michael. Probably she would have turned down the adoration of anyone older.

And the Countess probably liked to protect her innocence. The Countess was fiftyish now, and of a generation that preserved a certain stiffness along with a certain old-fashioned broadness of mind and outspokenness. She was of a class of American that had once seemed outrageously wealthy and who, if in the present stage of things they did not seem overwhelming, yet retained an aspect of impressive comfort and social authority, and she moved in a set most of whose individuals, American, English, or even French, were of much the same class as herself. She tolerated — she even liked — Sylvia, but she might well be mad if from under her roof Helen Lowther, who was in her charge, should come into social contact with an irregular couple. You never knew when that point of view might not crop up in women of that date and class.

Sylvia, however, had chanced it. She had to — and in the end it was only pulling the string of one more shower-bath. It was a shower-bath formidably charged — but in the end that was her vocation in life, and, if Campion had to lose India, she could always pursue her vocation in other countrysides. She was tired, but not as tired as all that!

So Sylvia had chanced saying that she supposed Helen Lowther could look after herself, and had added a salacious quip to keep the speech in character. She knew nothing really of Helen Lowther’s husband, who was probably a lean man with some dim avocation, but he could not be very impressionné, or he would not let his attractive young wife roam for ever over Europe.,

His Lordship gave no further sign beyond repeating that if that fellow was the sort of fellow Mrs. Tietjens said he was, her Ladyship would properly curl his whiskers. And, in face of that, Sylvia simply had to make a concession to the extent of saying that she did not see why Helen Lowther could not visit a show cottage that was known, apparently over half America. And perhaps buy some old sticks.

His Lordship removed his gaze from the distant hills, and turned a cool, rather impertinent glance on her. He said :

“Ah, if it’s only that . . .” and nothing more. And she chanced it again:

“If,” she said slowly too, “you think Helen Lowther is in need of protection I don’t mind if I go down and look after her myself!”

The general, who had tried several interjections, now exclaimed:

“Surely you wouldn’t meet that fellow And that rather spoilt it.

For Fittleworth could take the opportunity to leave her to what he was at liberty to regard as the directions of her natural protector. Otherwise he must have said something to give away his attitude. So she had to give away more of her own with the words:

“Christopher is not down there. He has taken an aeroplane to York — to save Groby Great Tree. Your man Speeding saw him when he went to get your saddle. Getting into a plane.” She added: “But he’s too late. Mrs. de Bray Pape had a letter the day before yesterday to say the tree had been cut down. At her orders!”

Fittleworth said: “Good God!” Nothing more. The general regarded him as one fearing to be struck by lightning. Campion had already told her over and over again that F ittleworth would rage like a town bull at the bare idea that the tenant of a furnished house should interfere with its owner’s timber. . . . But he merely continued to look away, communing with the handle of his crop. That called, Sylvia knew, for another concession, and she said:

“Now Mrs. de Bray Pape has got cold feet. Horribly cold feet. That’s why she’s down there. She’s got the idea that Mark may have her put in prison!” She added further:

“She wanted to take my boy Michael with her to intercede. As the heir he has some right to a view!”

And from those speeches of hers Sylvia had the measure of her dread of that silent man. Perhaps she was more tired than she thought, and the idea of India more attractive.

At that point Fittleworth exclaimed:

“Damn it all, I’ve got to settle the hash of that fellow Gunning!” ‘

He turned his horse’s head along the road and beckoned the general towards him with his crop handle. The general gazed back at her appealingly, but Sylvia knew that she had to stop there and await Fittleworth’s verdict from the general’s lips. She wasn’t even to have any duel of sour-entendus with Fittleworth.

She clenched her fingers on her crop and looked towards Gunning. . . . If she was going to be asked by the Countess through old Campion to pack up, bag and baggage, and leave the house she would at least get what she could out of that fellow whom she had never yet managed to approach.

The horses of the general and Fittleworth, relieved to be out of the neighbourhood of Sylvia’s chestnut, minced companionably along the road, the mare liking her companion.

“This fellow Gunning,” his Lordship began. . . . He continued with great animation: “About these gates. . . . You are aware that my estate carpenter repairs . . .”

Those were the last words she heard, and she imagined Fittleworth continuing for a long time about his bothering gates in order to put Campion quite off his guard — and no doubt for the sake of manners. Then he would drop in some shot that would be terrible to the old general. He might even cross — question him as to facts, with sly, side questions, looking away over the country.

For that she cared very little. She did not pretend to be a historian: she entertained rather than instructed. And she had conceded enough to Fittleworth. Or perhaps it was to Cammie. Cammie was a great, fat, good-natured dark thing with pockets under her liquid eyes. But she had a will. And by telling Fittleworth that she had not incited Helen Lowther and the two others to make an incursion into the Tietjens’ household Sylvia was aware that she had weakened.

She hadn’t intended to weaken. It had happened. She had intended to chance conveying the idea that she intended to worry Christopher and his companion into leaving that country.

The heavy man with the three horses approached slowly, with the air of a small army in the narrow road. He was grubby and unbuttoned, but he regarded her intently with eyes a little bloodshot.

He said from a distance something that she did not altogether understand. It was about her chestnut. He was asking her to back that ere chestnut’s tail into the hedge. She was not used to being spoken to by the lower classes. She kept her horse along the road. In that way the fellow could not pass. She knew what was the matter. Her chestnut would lash out at Gunning’s charges if they got near her stern. In the hunting season it wore a large K on its tail.

Nevertheless the fellow must be a good man with horses: otherwise he would not be perched on one with the stirrups crossed over the saddle in front of him and lead two others. She did not know that she would care to do that herself nowadays; there had been a time when she would have. She had intended to slip down from the chestnut and hand it, too, over to Gunning. Once she was down on the road he could not very well refuse. But she felt disinclined — to cock her leg over the saddle. He looked like a fellow who could refuse.

He refused. She had asked him to hold her horse whilst she went down and spoke to his master. He had made no motion towards her; he had continued to stare fixedly at her. She had said:

“You’re Captain Tietjens’ servant, aren’t you? I’m his wife. Staying with Lord Fittleworth?”

He had made no answer and no movement except to draw the back of his right hand across his left nostril — for lack of a handkerchief. He said some-thing incomprehensible — but not conciliatory. Then he began a longer speech. That she under-stood. It was to the effect that he had been thirty years, boy and man, with his Lordship and the rest of his time with th’ Cahptn. He also pointed out that there was a hitching post and chain by the gate there. But he did not advise her to hitch to it. The chestnut would kick to flinders any cart that came along the road. And the mere idea of the chestnut lashing out and injuring itself caused her to shudder; she was a good horsewoman.

The conversation went with long pauses. She was in no hurry; she would have to wait till Campion or Fittleworth came back — with the verdict prob-ably. The fellow when he used short sentences was incomprehensible because of his dialect. When he spoke longer she got a word or two out of it.

It troubled her a little, now, that Edith Ethel might be coming along the road. Practically she had promised to meet her at that spot and at about that moment, Edith Ethel proposing to sell her love — letters to Christopher — or through him. . . . The night before she had told Fittleworth that Christopher had bought the place below her with money he had from Lady Macmaster because Lady Macmaster had been his mistress. Fittleworth had boggled at that . . . it had been at that moment that he had gone rather stiff to her.

As a matter of fact Christopher had bought that place out of a windfall. Years before — before even she had married him-he had had a legacy from an aunt, and in his visionary way had invested it in some Colonial — very likely Canadian — property or invention or tramway concession, because he considered that some remote place, owing to its geographical position on some road — was going to grow. Apparently during the war it had grown, and the completely forgotten investment had paid nine and sixpence in the pound. Out of the blue. It could not be helped. With a monetary record of visionariness and generosity such as Christopher had behind him some chickens must now and then come home — some visionary investment turn out sound, some debtor turn honest. She understood even that some colonel who had died on Armistice night and to whom Christopher had lent. a good sum in hundreds had turned honest. At any rate his executors had written to ask her for Christopher’s address with a view to making payments. She hadn’t at the time known Christopher’s address, but no doubt they had got it from the War Office or somewhere.

With windfalls like those he had kept afloat, for she did not believe the old — furniture business as much as paid its way. She had heard through Mrs. Cramp that the American partner had embezzled most of the money that should have gone to Christopher. You should not do business with Americans. Christopher, it is true, had years ago — during the war — predicted an American invasion — as he always predicted everything. He had, indeed, said that if you wanted to have money you must get it from where money was going to, so that if you wanted to sell you must prepare to sell what they wanted. And they wanted old furniture more than anything else. That was why there were so many of them here. She didn’t mind. She was already beginning a little campaign with Mrs. de Bray Pape to make her refurnish Groby — to make her export all the clumsy eighteen-forty mahogany that the great house contained to Santa Fe, or wherever it was that Mr. Pape lived alone; and to refurnish with Louis Quatorze as befitted the spiritual descendant of the Maintenon. The worst of it was that Mr. Pape was stingy.

She was, indeed, in a fine taking that morning — Mrs. de Bray Pape. In hauling out the stump of Groby Great Tree the wood-cutters had apparently brought down two-thirds of the ball-room exterior wall, and that vast, gloomy room, with its immense lustres, was wrecked, along with the old school-rooms above it. As far as she could make out from the steward’s letter Christopher’s boyhood’s bed-room had practically disappeared. . . . Well, if Groby Great Tree did not like Groby House it had finely taken its dying revenge. . . . A nice shock Christopher would get! Anyhow, Mrs. de Bray Pape had already pretty well mangled the great dovecote in erecting in it a new power station.

But apparently it was going to mangle the de Bray Papes to the tune of a pretty penny, and apparently Mr. Pape might be expected to give his wife no end of a time. . . . Well, you can’t expect to be God’s Vice-regent of England without barking your shins on old, hard things.

No doubt Mark knew all about it by now. Perhaps it had killed him. She hoped it hadn’t, because she still hoped to play him some tidy little tricks before she had done with him. . . . If he were dead or dying beneath that parallelogram of thatch down among the apple boughs all sorts of things might be going to happen. Quite inconvenient things.

There would be the title. She quite definitely did not want the title, and it would become more difficult to injure Christopher. People with titles and great possessions are vastly more difficult to discredit than impoverished commoners, because the scale of morality changes. Titles and great possessions expose you to great temptations: it is scandalous, on the other hand, that the indigent should have any fun!

So that, sitting rather restfully in the sunlight on her horse, Sylvia felt like a general who is losing the fruits of victory. She did not much care. She had got down Groby Great Tree: that was as nasty a blow as the Tietjenses had had in ten generations.

But then a queer, disagreeable thought went through her mind, just as Gunning at last made again a semi-comprehensible remark. Perhaps in letting Groby Great Tree be cut down God was lifting the ban off the Tietjenses. He might well.

Gunning, however, had said something like:

“Sheddn gaw dahn theer. Ride Boldro up to farm n put he in loose box.” She gathered that if she would ride her horse to some farm he could be put in a loose box and she could rest in the farmer’s parlour. Gunning was looking at her with a queer intent look. She could not just think what it meant.

Suddenly it reminded her of her childhood. Her father had had a head gardener just as gnarled and just as apparently autocratic. That was it. She had not been much in the country for thirty years. Apparently country people had not changed much. Times change; people not so much.

For it came back to her with sudden extraordinary clearness. The side of a greenhouse, down there in the west where she had been “Miss Sylvia, oh Miss Sylvia!” for a whole army of protesting retainers, and that old, brown, gnarled fellow who was equally Mr. Carter for them all, except her father. Mr. Carter had been potting geranium shoots and she had been a little teasing a white kitten. She was thirteen, with immense plaits of blonde hair. The kitten had escaped from her and was rubbing itself, its back arched, against the leggings of Mr. Carter, who had a special affection for it. She had proposed — merely to torment Mr. Carter — to do something to the kitten, to force its paws into walnut shells perhaps. She had so little meant to hurt the kitten that she had for-gotten what it was she had proposed to do. And suddenly the heavy man, his bloodshot eyes fairly blazing, had threatened if she so much as blew on that kitten’s fur to thrash her on a part of her anatomy on which public schoolboys rather than young ladies are usually chastised . . . so that she would not be able to sit down for a week, he had said.

Oddly enough, it had given her a queer pleasure, that returned always with the recollection. She had never otherwise in her life been threatened with physical violence, and she knew that within herself the emotion had often and often existed: If only Christopher would thrash her within an inch of her life . . . Or yes — there had been Drake. . . . He had half-killed her: on the night before her wedding to Christopher. She had feared for the child within her! That emotion had been unbearable!

She said to Gunning — and she felt for all the world as if she were trying a torment on Mr. Carter of years ago:

“I don’t see why I need go to the farm. I can perfectly well ride Boldero down this path. I must certainly speak to your master.”

She had really no immediate notion of doing anything of the sort, but she turned her horse towards the wicket gate that was a little beyond Gunning.

He scrambled off his horse with singular velocity and under the necks of those he led. It was like the running of an elephant, and, with all the reins bunched before him, he almost fell with his back on the little wicket towards whose latch she had been extending the handle of her crop. . . . She had not meant to raise it. She swore she had not meant to raise it. The veins stood out in his hairy open neck and shoulders. He said: No, she didn’!

Her chestnut was reaching its teeth out towards the led horses. She was not certain that he heard her when she asked if he did not know that she was the wife of the Captain, his master, and guest of Lord Fittleworth, his ex — master. Mr. Carter certainly had not heard her years ago when she had reminded him that she was his master’s daughter. He had gone on fulminating. Gunning was doing that too — but more slowly and heavily. He said first that the Cahptn would tan her hide if she so much as disturbed his brother by a look; he would hide her within an inch of her life. As he had done already.

Sylvia said that by God he never had; if he said he had he lied. Her immediate reaction was to resent the implication that she was not as good a man as Christopher. He seemed to have been boasting that he had physically corrected her.

Gunning continued dryly:

“You put it in th’ papers yourself. My 01’ missus read it me. Powerful set on Sir Mark’s comfort, the Cahptn is. Threw you downstairs, the Cahptn did, n give you cancer. It doesn show!” That was the worst of attracting chivalrous attentions from professional people. She had begun divorce proceedings against Christopher, in the way of a petition for restitution of conjugal rights, compounding with the shade of Father Consett and her conscience as a Roman Catholic by arguing that a petition for the restoration of your husband from a Strange Woman is not the same as divorce proceedings. In England at that date it was a preliminary and caused as much publicity as the real thing to which she had no intention of proceeding. It caused quite a terrific lot of publicity, because her counsel in his enthusiasm for the beauty and wit of his client — in his chambers the dark, Gaelic, youthful K.C. had been impressively sentimental in his enthusiasm — learned counsel had overstepped the rather sober bounds of the preliminary aspects of these cases. He knew that Sylvia’s aim was not divorce but the casting of all possible obloquy on Christopher, and in his fervid Erse oratory he had cast as much mud as an enthusiastic terrier with its hind legs out of a fox’s hole. It had embarrassed Sylvia herself, sitting brilliantly in court. And it had roused the judge, who knew something of the case, having, like half London of his class, taken tea with the dying Sylvia beneath the crucifix and amongst the lilies of the nursing home that was also a convent. The judge had protested against the oratory of Mr. Sylvian Hatt, but Mr. Hatt had got in already a lurid picture of Christopher and Valentine in a dark, empty house on Armistice night throwing Sylvia down-stairs and so occasioning in her a fell disease from which, under the court’s eyes, she was fading. This had distressed Sylvia herself, for, rather with the idea of showing the court and the world in general what a fool Christopher was to have left her for a little brown sparrow, she had chosen to appear all radiance and health. She had hoped for the appearance of Valentine in court. It had not occurred.

The judge had asked Mr. Hatt if he really proposed to bring in evidence that Captain Tietjens and Miss Wannop had enticed Mrs. Tietjens into a dark house — and on a shake of the head that Sylvia had not been able to refrain from giving Mr. Hatt, the judge had made some extremely rude remarks to her counsel. Mr. Hatt was at that time standing as parliamentary candidate for a Midland Borough and was anxious to attract as much publicity as that or any other case would give him. He had therefore gone bald-headed for the judge, even accusing him of being indifferent to the sufferings he was causing to Mr. Hatt’s fainting client. Rightly handled, impertinence to a judge will gain quite a number of votes on the Radical side of Midland constituencies, judges being supposed to be all Tories.

Anyhow, the case had been a fiasco from Sylvia’s point of view, and for the first time in her life she had felt mortification; in addition she had felt a great deal of religious trepidation. It had come into her mind in court — and it came with additional vividness there above that house, that, years ago in her mother’s sitting-room in a place called Lobscheid, Father Consett had predicted that if Christopher fell in love with another woman, she, Sylvia, would perpetrate acts of vulgarity. And there she had been, not only toying with the temporal courts in a matter of marriage, which is a sacrament, but led undoubtedly into a position that she had to acknowledge was vulgar. She had precipitately left the court when Mr. Hatt had for the second time appealed for pity for her — but she had not been able to stop it. . . . Pity! She appeal for pity! She had regarded herself — she had certainly desired to be regarded — as the sword of the Lord smiting the craven and the traitor — to Beauty! And was it to be supported that she was to be regarded as such a fool as to be decoyed into an empty house! Or as to let herself be thrown down stairs! . . . But qui facit per alium is herself responsible, and there she had been in a position as mortifying as would have been that of any city clerk’s wife. The florid periods of Mr. Hatt had made her shiver all over, and she had never spoken to him again.

And her position had been broadcasted all over England — and now, here in the mouth of this gross henchman, it had recurred. At the most inconvenient moment. For the thought suddenly recurred, sweeping over with immense force: God had changed sides at the cutting down of Groby Great Tree.

The first intimation she had had that God might change sides had occurred in that hateful court, and had, as it were, been prophesied by Father Consett. That dark saint and martyr was in Heaven, having died for the Faith, and undoubtedly he had the ear of God. He had prophesied that she would toy with the temporal courts; immediately she had felt herself degraded, as if strength had gone out from her.

Strength had undoubtedly gone out from her. Never before in her life had her mind not sprung to an emergency. It was all very well to say that she could not move physically either backwards or forwards for fear of causing a stampede amongst all those horses and that therefore her mental uncertainty might be excused. But it was the finger of God — or of Father Consett who, as saint and martyr, was the agent of God. . . . Or perhaps God Himself was here really taking a hand for the protection of His Christopher, who was undoubtedly an Anglican saint. . . . The Almighty might well be dissatisfied with the other relatively amiable saint’s conduct of the case, for surely Father Consett might be expected to have a soft spot for her, whereas you could not expect the Almighty to be unfair even to Anglicans. . . . At any rate up over the landscape, the hills, the sky, she felt the shadow of Father Consett, the arms extended as if on a gigantic cruciform — and then, above and behind that, an . an August Will!

Gunning, his bloodshot eyes fixed on her, moved his lips vindictively. She had, in face of those ghostly manifestations across hills and sky, a moment of real panic. Such as she had felt when they had been shelling near the hotel in France, when she had sat amidst palms with Christopher under a glass roof. . . . A mad desire to run — or as if your soul ran about inside you like a parcel of rats in a pit awaiting an unseen terrier.

What was she to do? What the devil was she to do? . . . She felt an itch. . . . She felt the very devil of a desire to confront at least Mark Tietjens . . . even if it should kill the fellow. Surely God could not be unfair! What was she given beauty for — the dangerous remains of beauty! — if not to impress it on the unimpressible! She ought to be given the chance at least once more to try her irresistible ram against that immovable post before . . . She was aware. . . .

Gunning was saying something to the effect that if she caused Mrs. Valentine to have a miscarriage or an idiot child, Is Lordship woul flay all the flesh off er bones with is own ridin crop. Is Lordship ad fair done it to im, Gunning, isself when e lef is missis then eight and a arf munce gone to live with old Mother Cressy! The child was bore dead.

The words conveyed little to her. . . . She was aware. . . . She was aware. . . . What was she aware of? . . . She was aware that God — or perhaps it was Father Consett that so arranged it, more diplomatically, the dear! — desired that she should apply to Rome for the dissolution of her marriage with Christopher, and that she should then apply to the civil courts. She thought that probably God desired that Christopher should be freed as early as possible, Father. Consett suggesting to Him the less stringent course.

A fantastic object was descending at a fly-crawl the hill-road that went almost vertically up to the farm amongst the beeches. She did not care!

Gunning was saying that that wer why Is Lordship giv im th sack. Took away the cottage an ten bob a week that is Lordship allowed to all as had been in his service thritty yeer. ’

She said: “What! What’s that i” . . . Then it came back to her that Gunning had suggested that she might give Valentine a miscarriage. . . . Her breath made a little clittering sound, like the trituration of barley ears, in her throat; her gloved hands, reins and all, were over her eyes, smelling of morocco leather; she felt as if within her a shelf dropped away — as the platform drops away from beneath the feet of a convict they are hanging. She said: “Could . . .” Then her mind stopped, the clittering sound in her throat continuing. Louder. Louder.

Descending the hill at the fly’s pace was the impossible. A black basket-work pony phaeton: the pony — you always look at the horse first — four hands too big; as round as a barrel, as shining as a mahogany dining-table, pacing for all the world like a baut: école circus steed, and in a panic bumping its behind into that black vehicle. It eased her to see. . . . But . . . fantastically horrible, behind that grotesque coward of a horse, holding the reins, was a black thing, like a funeral charger; beside it a top hat, a white face, a buff waistcoat, black coat, a thin, Jewish beard. In front of that a bare, blond head, the hair rather long — on the front seat, back to the view. Trust Edith Ethel to be accompanied by a boy — poet cicisbeo! Training Mr. Ruggles for his future condition as consort!

She exclaimed to Gunning:

“By God, if you do not let me pass, I will cut your face in half . . . .”

It was justified! This in effect was too much-on the part of Gunning and God and Father Consett. All of a heap they had given her perplexity, immobility and a dreadful thought that was griping her Vitals. . . . Dreadful! Dreadful!

She must get down to the cottage. She must get down to the cottage.

She said to Gunning:

“You damn fool. . . . You damn fool. . . . I want to save . . .”

He moved up — interminably — sweating and hairy, from the gate on which he had been leaning, so that he no longer barred her way. She trotted smartly past him and cantered beautifully down the slope. It came to her from the bloodshot glance that his eyes gave her that he would like to outrage her with ferocity. She felt pleasure.

She came off her horse like a circus performer to the sound of “Mrs. Tietjens! Mrs. Tietjens,” in several voices from above. She let the chestnut go to hell.

It seemed queer that it did not seem queer. A shed of log-parings set upright, the gate banging behind her. Apple-branches spreading down; grass up to the middle of her grey breeches. It was Tom Tiddler’s Ground; it was near a place called Gemmenich on the Fourth of August, 1914.! . . . But just quietude: quietude.

Mark regarded her boy’s outline with beady, inquisitive eyes. She bent her switch into a half hoop before her. She heard herself say:

“Where are all these fools? I want to get them out of here!”

He continued to regard her: beadily: his head like mahogany against the pillows. An apple-bough caught in her hair.

She said:

“Damn it all, I had Groby Great Tree cut down, not that tin Maintenon. But, as God is my Saviour, I would not tear another woman’s child in the womb!”

He said:

“You poor bitch! You poor bitch! The riding has done it!”

She swore to herself afterwards that she had heard him say that, for at the time she had had too many emotions to regard his speaking as unusual. She took, indeed, a prolonged turn in the woods before she felt equal to facing the others. Tietjens’s had its woods onto which the garden gave directly.

Her main bitterness was that they had this peace. She was cutting the painter, but they were going on in this peace; her world was waning. It was the fact that her friend Bobbie’s husband, Sir Gabriel Blantyre — formerly Bosenheim — was cutting down expenses like a lunatic. In her world there was the writing on the wall. Here they could afford to call her a poor bitch — and be in the right of it, as like as not!

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