Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 3

VALENTINE was awakened by the shrill over-tones of the voice of the little maid coming through the open window. She had fallen asleep over the words: “Saepe te in sommnis vidi!” to a vision of white limbs in the purple Adriatic. Eventually the child’s voice said:

“We only sez ‘ mem ’ to friends of the family!” shrilly and self-assertively.

She was at the casement, dizzy and sickish with the change of position and the haste — and violently impatient of her condition. Of humanity she perceived only the top of a three-cornered grey hat and a grey panniered skirt in downward perspective. The sloping tiles of the potting-shed hid the little maid; aligned small lettuce plants, like rosettes on the dark earth, ran from under the window, closed by a wall of sticked peas, behind them the woods, slender grey ash trunks going to a great height. They were needed for shelter. They would have to change their bedroom: they could not have a night nursery that faced the north. The spring onions needed pricking out: she had meant to put the garden pellitory into the rocks in the half-circle; but the operation had daunted her. Pushing the little roots into crevices with her fingers; removing stones, trowelling in artificial manure, stooping, dirtying her fingers would make her retch. . . .

She was suddenly intensely distressed at the thought of the lost coloured prints. She had searched the whole house — all imaginable drawers, cup-boards, presses. It was like their fate that, when they had at last got a good — an English — client, their first commission from her should go wrong. She thought again of every imaginable, unsearched parallelogram in the house, standing erect, her head up, neglecting to look down on the intruder.

She considered all their customers to be intruders. It was true that Christopher’s gifts lay in the way of old-furniture dealing — and farming. But farming was ruinous. Obviously if you sold old furniture straight out of use in your own house, it fetched better prices than from a shop. She did not deny Christopher’s ingenuity — or that he was right to rely on her hardihood. He had at least the right so to rely. Nor did she mean to let him down. Only . . .

She passionately desired little Chrissie to be born in that bed with the thin fine posts, his blond head with the thin, fine hair on those pillows. She passionately desired that he should lie with blue eyes gazing at those curtains on the low windows. . . .

Those! With those peacocks and globes. Surely a child should lie gazing at what his mother had seen, whilst she was awaiting him!

And, where were those prints? . . . Four parallelograms of faint,‘silly colour. Promised for tomorrow morning. The margins needed bread-crumbing. . . . She imagined her chin brushing gently, gently back and forward on the floss of his head; she imagined holding him in the air as, in that bed, she lay, her arms extended upwards, her hair spread on those pillows! Flowers perhaps spread on that quilt. Lavender!

But if Christopher reported that one of those dreadful people with querulous voices wanted a bedroom complete? . . .

If she begged him to retain it for her. Well, he would. He prized her above money. She thought — ah, she knew — that he prized the child within her above the world.

Nevertheless, she imagined that she would go all on to the end with her longings unvoiced. . . . Because there was the game. . . . His game . . . oh, hang it, their game! And you have to think whether it is worse for the unborn child to have a mother with unsatisfied longings, or a father beaten at his . . . No, you must not call it a game. . . . Still, roosters beaten by other roosters lose their masculinity. . . . Like roosters, men. . . . Then, for a child to have a father lacking masculinity . . . for the sake of some peacock and globe curtains, spindly bed-posts, old, old glass tumblers with thumb-mark indentations. . . .

On the other hand, for the mother the soft feeling that those things give! . . . The room had a barrel-shaped ceiling, following the lines of the roof almost up to the roof-tree; dark oak beams, beeswaxed — ah, that beeswaxing! Tiny, low windows almost down to the oaken floor. . . . You would say, too much of the show-place: but you lived into it. You lived yourself into it in spite of the Americans who took, sometimes embarrassed, peeps from the doorway.

Would they have to peek into the nursery? Oh, God, who knew? What would He decree? It was an extraordinary thing to live with Americans all over you, dropping down in aeroplanes, seeming to come up out of the earth. . . . There, all of a sudden, you didn’t know how. . . .

That woman below the window was one, now. How in the world had she got below that window? . . . But there were so many entrances — from the spinney, from the Common, through the fourteen-acre, down from the road. . . . You never knew who was coming. It was eerie; at times she shivered over it. You seemed to be beset — with stealthy people, creeping up all the paths. . . .

Apparently the little tweeny was disputing the right of that American woman to call herself a friend of the family and thus to be addressed as “Mem!” The American was asserting her descent from Madame de Maintenon. . . . It was astonishing the descents they all had! She herself was descended from the surgeon-butler to Henry VII-Henry the Somethingth. And, of course, from the great Professor Wannop, beloved of lady-educators and by ladies whom he had educated. . . . And Christopher was eleventh Tietjens of Groby — with an eventual burgomaster of Scheveningen or somewhere in some century or other: time of Alva. Number one came over with Dutch William, the Protestant Hero! . . . If he had not come, and if Professor Wannop had not educated her, Valentine Wannop — or educated her differently — she would not have . . . Ah, but she would have! If there had not been any HE, looking like a great Dutch treckschluyt or whatever you call it — she would have had to invent one to live with in open sin. . . . But her father might have educated her so as to have — at least presentable underclothes. . . .

He could have educated her so as to be able to say — oh, but tactfully:

“Look here, you. . . . Examine my . . . my cache-corsets. . . . Wouldn’t some new ones be better than a new pedigree sow?” . . . The fellow never had looked at her . . . cache-corsets. Marie Léonie had.

Marie Léonie was of opinion that she would lose Christopher if she did not deluge herself with a perfume called Houbigant and wear pink silk next the skin. Elle ne demandait pas mieux— but she could not borrow twenty pounds from Marie Léonie. Nor yet forty. . . . Because, although Christopher might never notice the condition of her all-wools, he jolly well would be struck by the ocean of Houbigant and the surf of pink. . . . She would give the world for them. . . . But he would notice — and then she might lose his love. Because she had borrowed the forty pounds. On the other hand, she might lose it because of the all-wools. And heaven knew in what condition the other pair would be when they came back from Mrs. Cramp’s newest laundry attentions. . . . You could never teach Mrs. Cramp that wool must not be put into boiling water!

Oh God, she ought to lie between lavendered linen sheets with little Chrissie on soft, pink silk, aircushionish bosoms! . . . Little Chrissie, descended from surgeon-butler-surgeon-barber, to be correct! — and burgomaster. Not to mention the world-famous Professor Wannop. . . . Who was to become . . . who was to become, if it was as she wished it. . . . But she did not know what she wished, because she did not know what was to become of England or the world. . . . But if he became what Christopher wished he would be a contemplative parson farming his own tithe-fields and with a Greek Testament in folio under his arm. . . . A sort of White of Selborne. . . . Selborne was only thirty miles away, but they had had never the time to go there. . . . As who should say: je n’ai jamais vu Carcassonne. . . . For, if they had never found time, because of pigs, hens, pea-sticking, sales, sellings, mending all-wool under-garments, sitting with dear Mark — before little Chrissie came with the floss silk on his palpitating soft poll and his spinning pebble-blue eyes: if they had never found time now, before, how in the world would there be time with, added on to all the other, the bottles, and the bandagings and the bathing before the fire with the warm, warm water, and feeling and the slubbing of the soap-saturated flannel on the adorable, adorable limbs? And Christopher looking on. . . . He would never find time to go to Selborne, nor Arundel, nor Carcassonne, nor after the Strange Woman. . . . Never. Never!

He had been away now for a day and a half. But it was known between them — without speaking! — that he would never be away for a day and a half again. Now, before her pains began he could seize the opportunity! Well, he had seized it with a vengeance. . . . A day and a half! To go to Wilbraham sale! With nothing much that they wanted. . . . She believed . . . she believed that he had gone to Groby in an aeroplane. . . . He had once mentioned that. Or she knew that he had thought of it. Because the day before yesterday when he had been almost out of his mind about the letting of Groby, he had suddenly looked up at an aeroplane and had remained looking at it for long, silent. . . . Another woman it could not be. . . .

He had forgotten about those prints. That was dreadful. She knew that he had forgotten about them. How could he, when they wanted to get a good, English client, for the sake of little Chrissie? How could he? How could he? It is true that he was almost out of his mind about Groby and Groby Great Tree. He had begun to talk about that in his sleep, as for years, at times, he had talked, dreadfully, about the war.

Bringt dem Hauptmann eine Kerze. . . . Bring the Major a candle,” he would shout dreadfully beside her in the blackness. And she would know that he was remembering the sound of picks in the earth beneath the trenches. And he would groan and sweat dreadfully, and she would not dare to wake him. . . . And there had been the matter of the boy, Aranjuez’, eye. It appeared that he had run away over a shifting landscape, screaming and holding his hand to his eye. After Christopher had carried him out of a hole. . . . Mrs. Aranjuez had been rude to her at the Armistice night dinner. . . . The first time in her life that anyone-except of course Edith Ethel — had been ever rude to her. Of course you did not count Edith Ethel Duchemin, Lady Macmaster! . . . But it’s queer: your man saves the life of a boy at the desperate risk of his own. Without that there would not have been any Mrs. Aranjuez: then Mrs. Aranjuez is the first person that ever in your life is rude to you. Leaving permanent traces that made you shudder in the night! Hideous eyes!

Yet, but for a miracle there might have been no Christopher. Little Aranjuez — it had been because he had talked to her for so long, praising Christopher, that Mrs. Aranjuez had been rude to her! — little Aranjuez had said that the German bullets had gone over them as thick as the swarm of bees that came out when Gunning cut the leg of? the skep with his scythe! . . . Well, there might have been no Christopher. Then there would have been no Valentine Wannop! She could not have lived. . . . But Mrs. Aranjuez should not have been rude to her. The woman must have seen with half an eye that Valentine Wannop could not live without Christopher. . . . Then, why should she fear for her little, imploring, eyeless creature!

It was queer. You would almost say that there was a Provvy who delighted to torment you with: “If it hadn’t been that . . .” Christopher probably believed that there was a Provvy or he would not dream for his little Chrissie a country parsonage. . . . He proposed, if they ever made any money, to buy a living for him — if possible near Salisbury. . . . What was the name of the place? . . . a pretty name. . . . Buy a living where George Herbert had been parson. .

She must, by the by, remember to tell Marie Léonie that it was the Black Orpington labelled 42 not the Red 16 that she had put the setting of Indian Runners under. She had found that Red 16 was not really broody, though she had come on afterwards. It was queer that Marie Léonie had not the courage to put eggs under broody hens because they peeked her, whereas she, Valentine, had no courage to take the chickens when the settings hatched, because of the shells and gumminesses that might be in the nests. . . . Yet neither of them wanted courage. . . . Hang it all, neither of them wanted courage, or they would not be living with Tietjenses. It was like being tied to buffaloes!

And yet . . . How you wanted them to change!

Bremersyde. . . . No, that was the home of the Haigs. . . . Tide what will and tide what tide, there shall be Haigs at Bremersyde. . . . Perhaps it was Bemersyde! . . . Bemerton, then. George Herbert, rector of Bemerton, near Wilton, Salisbury. . . . That was what Chrissie was to be like. . . . She was to imagine herself sitting with her cheek on Chrissie’s floss-silk head, looking into the fire and seeing in the coals, Chrissie, walking under elms beside ploughlands. Elle ne demandait, really, pas mieux.’

If the country would stand it! . . .

Christopher presumably believed in England as he believed in Provvy — because the land was pleasant and green and comely. It would breed true. In spite of showers of Americans descended from Tiglath Pileser and Queen Elizabeth, and the end of the industrial system and the statistics of the shipping trade, England with its pleasant, green comeliness would go on breeding George Herberts with Gunnings to look after them. . . . Of course with Gunnings!

The Gunnings of the land were the rocks on which the lighthouse was built — as Christopher saw it. And Christopher was always right. Sometimes a little previous. But always right. Always right. The rocks had been there a million years before the lighthouse was built: the lighthouse made a deuce of a movable flashing — but it was a mere butterfly. The rocks would be there a million years after the light went for the last time out.

A Gunning would be, in the course of years, painted blue, a Druid-worshipper, a Duke Robert of Normandy, illiterately burning towns and begetting bastards — and eventually — actually at the moment — a man of all works, half-full of fidelity, half blatant, hairy. A retainer you would retain as long as you were prosperous and dispensed hard cider and overlooked his peccadilloes with women. He would go on. . . .

The point was whether the time had come for another Herbert of Bemerton. Christopher thought it had: he was always right; always right. But previous. He had predicted the swarms of Americans buying up old things. Offering fabulous prices.

He was right. The trouble was they did not pay when they offered the fabulous prices: when they did pay they were as mean as . . . she was going to say Job. But she did not know that Job was particularly mean. That lady down below the window would probably want to buy the signed cabinet of Barker of 1762 for half the price of one bought in a New York department store and manufactured yesterday. . . . And she would tell Valentine she was a blood-sucker, even if — to suppose the ridiculous! — Valentine let her have it at her own price. On the other hand, Mr. Schatzweiler talked of fantastic prices. . . .

Oh, Mr. Schatzweiler, Mr. Schatzweiler, if you would only pay us ten per cent. of what you owe us — I could have all the pink fluffies, and three new gowns, and keep the little old lace for Chrissie — and have a proper dairy and not milk goats. And cut the losses over the confounded pigs, and put up a range of glass in the sunk garden where it would not be an eyesore. . . . As it was . . .

The age of fairy-tales was not, of course, past. They had had windfalls: lovely windfalls when infinite ease had seemed to stretch out before them. . . . A great windfall when they had bought this place; little ones for the pigs and old mare. . . . Christopher was the sort of fellow; he had sowed so many golden grains that he could not be always reaping whirlwinds. There must be some halcyon days . . .

Only it was deucedly awkward now — with Chrissie coming and Marie Léonie hinting all day that, as she was losing her figure, if she could not get the grease stains out of her skirt she would lose the affections of Christopher. And they had not got a stiver. . . . Christopher had cabled Schatzweiler. . . . But what was the use of that? . . . Schatzweiler would be finely dished if she lost the affections of Christopher — because poor old Chris could not run any old junk shop without her. . . . She imagined cabling Schatzweiler — about the four stains on the skirt and the necessity for elegant lying-in gowns. Or else he would lose Christopher’s assistance. . . .

The conversation down below raised its tones. She heard the tweeny maid ask why if the American lady was a friend of the family she did not know Er Ladyship theere? . . . Of course it was easy to understand: These people came, all of them, with letters of introduction from Schatzweiler. ‘Then they insisted that they were friends of the family. It was perhaps nice of them — because most English people would not want to know old-furniture dealers.

The lady below exclaimed in a high voice:

“That Lady Mark Tietjens! That! Mercy me, I thought it was the cook!”

She, Valentine, ought to go down and help Marie Léonie. But she was not going to. She had the sense that hostile presences were creeping up the path and Marie Léonie had given her the afternoon off. . . . For the sake of the future, Marie Léonie had said. And she had said that she had once expected her own future to offer the reading of Aeschylus beside the Aegean sea. Then Marie Léonie had kissed her and said she knew that Valentine would never rob her of her belongings after Mark died!

An unsolicited testimonial, that. But of course Marie Léonie would desire her not to lose the affections of Christopher. Marie Léonie would say to herself that in that case Christopher might take up with a woman who would want to rob Marie Léonie of her possessions after Mark died. . . .

The woman down below announced herself as Mrs. de Bray Pape, descendant of the Maintenon, and wanted to know if Marie Léonie did not think it reasonable to cut down a tree that overhung your house. Valentine desired to spring to the window: she sprang to the old panelled door and furiously turned the key in the lock. She ought not to have turned the key so carelessly: it had a knack of needing five or ten minutes manipulation before you could unlock the door again. . . . But she ought to have sprung to the window and cried out to Mrs. de Bray Pape: “If you so much as touch a leaf of Groby Great Tree we will serve you with injunctions that it will take half your life and money to deal with!”

She ought to have done that to save Christopher’s reason. But she could not: she could not! It was one thing living with all the tranquillity of conscience in the world in open sin. It was another, confronting elderly Americans who knew the fact. She was determined to remain shut in there. An Englishman’s house may no longer be his castle — but an Englishwoman’s castle is certainly her own bedroom. When once, four months or so ago, the existence of little Chrissie being manifest, she had expressed to Christopher the idea that they ought no longer to go stodging along in penury, the case being so grave: they ought to take some of the Groby money — for the sake of future generations. . . .

Well, she had been run down. . . . At that stage of parturition, call it, a woman is run down and hysterical. . . . It had seemed to her overwhelmingly the iact that a breeding woman ought to have pink fluffy things next her quivering skin and sprayings of say, Houbigant, all over her shoulders and hair. For the sake of the child’s health.

So she had let out violently at poor wretched old Chris, faced with the necessity for denying his gods, and had slammed to and furiously locked that door. Her castle had been her bedroom with a vengeance then — for Christopher had been unable to get in or she to get out. He had had to whisper through the keyhole that he gave in: he was dreadfully concerned for her. He had said that he hoped she would try to stick it a little longer, but, if she would not, he would take Mark’s money.

Naturally she had not let him — but she had arranged with Marie Léonie for Mark to pay a couple of pounds more a week for their board and lodging, and as Marie Léonie had perforce taken over the housekeeping, they had found things easing off a little. Marie Léonie had run the house for thirty shillings a week less than she, Valentine, had ever been able to do — and run it streets better. Streets and streets! So they had had money at least nearly to complete their equipments of table linen and the layette. . . . The long and complicated annals ‘.

It was queer that her heart was nearly as much in Christopher’s game as was his own. As house-mother, she ought to have grabbed after the last penny — and goodness knew the life was strain enough. Why do women back their men in unreasonable romanticisms? You might say that it was because, if their men had their masculinities abated — like defeated roosters! — the women would suffer in intimacies. . . . Ah, but it wasn’t that! Nor was it merely that they wanted the buffaloes to which they were attached to charge. It was really that she had followed the convolutions of her man’s mind. And ardently approved. She disapproved with him of riches, of the rich, of the frame of mind that riches confer. If the war had done nothing else for them — for those two of them — it had induced them, at least, to install Frugality as a deity. They desired to live hard, even if it deprived them of the leisure in which to think high! She agreed with him that if a ruling class loses the capacity to rule — or the desire! — it should abdicate from its privileges and get under-ground.

And having accepted that as a principle, she could follow the rest of his cloudy obsessions and obstinacies.

Perhaps she would not have backed him up in his long struggle with dear Mark if she had not considered that their main necessity was to live high. . . . And she was aware that why, really, she had sprung to the door rather than to the window had been that she had not desired to make an unfair move in that long chess game. On behalf of Christopher. If she had had to see Mrs. de Bray Pape or to speak — to her it would have been disagreeable to have that descendant of a king’s companion look at her with the accusing eyes of one who thinks: “You live with a man without being married to him!” Mrs. de Bray Pape’s ancestress had been able to force the king to marry her. . . . But that she would have chanced: they had paid penalty enough for having broken the rules of the Club. She could carry her head high enough: not obtrusively high, but sufficiently! For, in effect, they had surrendered Groby in order to live together and had endured sprays of obloquy that seemed never to cease to splash over the garden hedges.

No, she would have faced Mrs. de Bray Pape. But she would hardly, given Christopher’s half — crazed condition, have kept herself from threatening Mrs. Pape with dreadful legal consequences if she touched Groby Great Tree. That would have been to interfere in the silent Northern struggle between the brothers. That she would neverdo, even to save Christopher’s reason — unless she were jumped into it! . . . That Mark did not intend to interfere between Mrs. Pape and the tree she knew — for when she had read Mrs. I’ape’s letter to him he had signified as much to her by means of his eyes. . . . Mark she loved and respected because he was a dear-and because he had backed her through thick and thin. Without him . . . There had been a moment on that dreadful night . . . She prayed God that she would not have to think again of that dreadful night. . . . If she had to see Sylvia again she would go mad, and the child within her. . . . Deep, deep within her the blight would fall on the little thread of brain!

Mrs. de Bray Pape, God be thanked, provided a diversion for her mind. She was speaking French with an eccentricity that could not be ignored.

Valentine could see, without looking out of the window, Marie Léonie’s blank face and the equal blankness with which she must have indicated that she did not intend to understand. She imagined her standing, motionless, pinafored and unmerciful before the other lady, who beneath the three-cornered hat was stuttering out:

“Lady Tietjens, mwaw, Madam de Bray Pape, desire coo — pay la arbre . . . .”

Valentine could hear Marie Léonie’s steely tones saying:

“On dit ‘1’arbre,’ Madame!”

And then the high voice of the little maid:

“Called us ‘the pore,’ she did, your ladyship. . . . Ast us why we could not take example!”

Then a voice, soft for these people, and with modulations:

“Sir Mark seems to be perspiring a great deal. I was so free as to wipe . . .”

As, above, Valentine said: “Oh, Heaven!” Marie Léonie cried out: “Mon Dieu!” and there was a rush of skirts and pinafore.

Marie Léonie was rushing past a white, breeched figure, saying:

“Vous, une étrangére, avez osé. . . .

A shining, red-cheeked boy was stumbling slightly from before her. He said, after her back:

“Mrs. Lowther’s handkerchief is the smallest, softest . . .” He added to the young woman in white: “We’d better go away. . . . Please let’s go away. . . . It’s not sporting . . . .” A singularly familiar face; a singularly moving voice. “For God’s sake let us go away . . . .” Who said “For God’s sake!” like that — with staring blue eyes!

She was at the door frantically twisting at the great iron key; the lock was of very old hammered iron work. The doctor ought to be telephoned to. He had said that if Mark had fever or profuse sweats, he should be telephoned to at once. Marie Léonie would be with him; it was her, Valentine’s, duty to telephone. The key would not turn; she hurt her hand in the effort. But part of her emotion was due to that bright-checked boy. Why should he have said that it was not sporting of them to be there? Why had he exclaimed for God’s sake to go away? The key would not turn. It stayed solid, like a piece of the old lock. . . . Who was the boy like? She rammed her shoulder against the unyielding door. She must not do that. She cried out.

From the window — she had gone to the window intending to tell the girl to set up a ladder for her, but it would be more sensible to tell her to telephone! — she could see Mrs. de Bray Pape. She was still haranguing the girl. And then on the path, beyond the lettuces and the newly sticked peas, arose a very tall figure. A very tall figure. Portentous. By some trick of the slope figures there always appeared very tall. . . . This appeared leisurely: almost hesitant. Like the apparition of the statue of the Commander in Don Juan, somehow. It appeared to be preoccupied with its glove: undoing its glove. . . . Very tall, but with too much slightness of the legs. . . . A woman in hunting-breeches! Grey against the tall ash-stems of the spinney. You could not see her face because you were above her, in the window, and her head was bent down! In the name of God! . . .

There wafted over her a sense of the dreadful darkness in the old house at Gray’s Inn on that dreadful night. . . . She must not think of that dreadful night because of little Chrissie deep within her. She felt as if she held the child covered in her arms, as if she were looking upwards, bending down over the child. Actually she was looking downwards. . . . Then she had been looking up-wards — up the dark stairs. At a marble statue: the white figure of a woman: the Nike . . . the Winged Victory. It is like that on the stairs of the Louvre. She must think of the Louvre: not Gray’s Inn. There were, in a Pompeian anteroom, Etruscan tombs, with guardians in uniform, their hands behind their backs. Strolling about as if they expected you to steal a tomb! . . .

She had — they had — been staring up the stairs. The house had seemed unnaturally silent when they had entered. Unnaturally. . . . How can you seem more silent than silent. But you am I They had seemed to tiptoe. She had, at least. Then light had shone above — coming from an opened door above. In the light the white figure that said it had cancer!

She must not think about these things!

Such rage and despair had swept over her as she had never before known. She had cried to Christopher, dark, beside her: that the woman lied. She had not got cancer. . . .

She must not think about these things.

The woman on the path — in grey riding things-approached slowly. The head still bent down. Undoubtedly she had silk underthings beneath all that grey cloth. . . . Well, they — Christopher and Valentine — gave her them.

It was queer how calm she was. That of course was Sylvia Tietjens. Let it be. She had fought for her man before and so she could again; the Russians should not have . . . The old jingle ran in her calm head. . . .

But she was desperately perturbed: trembling. At the thought of that dreadful night. Christopher had wanted to go with Sylvia after she had fallen down stairs. A good theatre fall, but not good enough. But she had shouted: No! He was never going with Sylvia again. Finir Sylvia at magna. . . . In the black night . . . They had gone on firing maroons. They could be heard!

Well, she was calm. The sight of that figure was not going to hurt the tiny brain that worked deep within her womb. Nor the tiny limbs! She was going to slub the warm, soap-transfused flannel onto those little legs in the warm of the great hearth. . . . Nine hams up that chimney! Chrissie looking up and laughing. . . . That woman would never again do that! Not to a child of Christopher’s. Not to any man’s child, belike!

That had been that woman’s son! With a girl in white breeches! . . Well, who was she, Valentine, to prevent a son’s seeing his father. She felt on her arm the weight of her own son. With that there she could confront the world!

It was queer! That woman’s face was all blurred. . . . Blubberingly! The features swollen, the eyes red. . . . Ah, she had been thinking, looking at the garden and the stillness: “If I had given Christopher that I should have kept him!” But she would never have kept him. Had she been the one woman in all the world he would never have looked at her. Not after he had seen her, Valentine Wannop!

Sylvia had looked up, contemplatively — as if into the‘ very window. But she could not see into the window. She must have seen Mrs. de Bray Pape and the girl, for it became apparent why she had taken off her glove. She now had a gold vanity box in her hand: looking in at the mirror and moving her right hand swiftly before her face. . . . Remember: it was we who gave her that gold thing. Remember! Remember it hard!

Sudden anger came over her. That woman must never come into their house-place, before whose hearth she was to bathe the little Chrissie! Never! Never! The place would be polluted. ‘She knew, only by that, how she loathed and recoiled from that woman.

She was at the lock. The key turned. . . . See what emotion at the thought of harm to your unborn child can do for you! Subconsciously her right hand had remembered how you pressed the key upwards when you made it turn . . . She must not run down the narrow stairs. The telephone was in a niche on the inner side of the great ingle. The room was dim: very long, very low. The Barker cabinet looked very rich, with its green, yellow and scarlet inlays. She was leaning sideways in the nook between the immense fireplace and the room wall, the telephone receiver at her car. She looked down her long room — it opened into the dining-room, a great beam between. It was dark, gleaming, rich with old beeswaxed woods. . . . Elle ne demandait par mieux . . . the phrase of Marie Léonie occurred constantly to her mind. . . . She did not ask better — if only the things were to be regarded as theirs! She looked into the distant future when things would spread out tranquilly before them. They would have a little money, a little peace. Things would spread out . . . like a plain seen from a hill. In the meantime they had to keep all on going. . . . She did not, in effect, grumble at that . . . as long as strength and health held out.

The doctor — she pictured him, long, sandy and very pleasant, suffering too from an incurable disease and debts, life being like that! — the doctor asked cheerfully how Mark was. She said she did not know. He was said to have been profusely sweating. . . . Yes, it was possible that he might have been having a disagreeable interview. The doctor said: “Tut! Tut! And yourself?” He had a Scotch accent, the sandy man. . . . She suggested that he might bring along a bromide. He said: “They’ve been bothering you. Don’t let them!” She said she had been asleep — but they probably would. She added: “Perhaps you would come quickly!” . . . Sister Anne! Sister Anne! For God’s sake, Sister Anne! If she could get a bromide into her it would pass like a dream.

It was passing like a dream. Perhaps the Virgin Mary exists. . . . If she does not we must invent her to look after mothers who could not . . . But she could! She, Valentine Wannop!

The light from the doorway that was open onto the garden was obscured. A highwayman in skirts with panniers stood in the room against the light. It said:

“You’re the saleswoman, I guess. This is a most insanitary place, and I hear you have no bath. Show me some things. In the Louie Kaator’s style.” . . . It guessed that it was going to refurnish Groby in Louis Quatorze style. Did she, Valentine, as saleswoman, suppose that They — her employers — would meet her in the expense. Mr. Pape had had serious losses in Miami. They must not suppose that the Papes could be bled white. This place ought to be pulled down as unfit for human habitation and a model workman’s cottage built in its place. People who sold things to rich Americans in this country were sharks. She herself was descended spiritually from Madame de Maintenon. It would be all different if Marie Antoinette had treated the Maintenon better. She, Mrs. de Bray Pape, would have the authority in the country that she ought to have. She had been told that she would be made to pay an immense sum for having cut down Groby Great Tree. Of course the side wall of the house had fallen in. These old houses could not stand up to modern inventions. She, Mrs. de Bray Pape, had employed the latest Australian form of tree-stump extractor — the Wee Whizz Bang. . . . But did she, as saleswoman but doubtless more intimate with her employers than was necessary, considering the reputation of that establishment . . . did she consider? . . .

Valentine’s heart started. The light from the doorway was again obscured. Marie Léonie ran panting in. Sister Anne, in effect! She said: “Le téléphone! Vite!”

Valentine said:

“J’ai déja téléphoné. . . . Le docteur sera ici dans quelques minutes. . . . Je te prie de rester 5. cété de moi!” . . . I beg you to remain beside me! Selfish! Selfish! But there was a child to be born. . . . Anyhow Marie Léonie could not have got out of that door. It was blocked. . . . Ah!

Sylvia Tietjens was looking down on Valentine. You could hardly see her face against the light. . . . Well, it did not amount to more than that. . . . She was looking down because she was so tall; you could not see her face against the light. Mrs. de Bray Pape was explaining what spiritual descent from grands seigneurs did for you.

She was bending her eyes on Valentine. That was the phrase. She said to Mrs. de Bray Pape:

“For God’s sake hold your damned tongue. Get out of here!”

Mrs. de Bray Pape had not understood. For the matter of that neither did Valentine take it in. A thin voice from a distance thrilled:

“Mother! . . . Mo . . . ther!”

She — IT— for it was like a statue. . . . Marvellous how she had made her face up. Three minutes before it had been a mush! . . . It was flawless now; dark — shadowed under the eyes! And sorrowful! And tremendously dignified. And kind! . . . Damn! Damn! Damn!

It occurred to Valentine that this was only the second time that she had ever seen that face. . . . Its stillness now was terrible! What was she waiting for before she began the Billingsgate that they were both going to indulge in before all these people? . . . For she, Valentine, had her back against the wall! She heard herself begin to say:

“You have spoilt . . .” She could not continue. You cannot very well tell a person that their loathsomeness is so infectious as to spoil your‘ baby’s bathing-place! It is not done!

Marie Léonie said in French to Mrs. de Bray Pape that Mrs. Tietjens did not require her presence. Mrs. de Bray Pape did not understand. It is difficult for a Maintenon to understand that her presence is not required 1

The first time that she, Valentine, had seen that face, in Edith Ethel’s drawing-room, she had thought how kind . . . how blindingly kind it was. When the lips had approached her mother’s cheek the tears had been in Valentine’s eyes. It had said — that face of a statue! — that it must kiss Mrs. Wannop for her kindness to Christopher. . . . Damn it, it might as well kiss her, Valentine, now! . . . There would have been no Christopher today but for her!

It said — it was so perfectly expressionless that you could continue to call it “it”— it said, coldly and without halt, to Mrs. de Bray Pape:

“You hear! The lady of the house does not require your presence. Please go away!”

Mrs. dc Bray Pape was explaining that she had been telling the saleswoman that she intended to refurnish Groby in the Louie Kaator’s style.

It occurred to Valentine that this position had its comicalities: Marie Léonie did not know that woman; Mrs. de Bray Pape did not know her, Valentine. They would miss a good deal of the jam! . .’ . But where was the jam! Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow. . . . That figure had said “Mrs. Tietjens!” In sarcasm, then? In delicacy?

She caught at the telephone shelf; it was dark. The baby had moved within her. . . . It wanted her to be called “Mrs. Tietjens!” Someone was calling “Valentine!” Someone else was calling “Mother!” A softer voice said: “Mrs. Tietjens!” What things they chose to say! The first voice was Edith Ethel’s!

Dark! . . . Marie Léonie said in her ear: “Tiens toi debout, ma chérie!”

Dark, dark night; cold, cold snow — Harsh, harsh wind, and lo! — Where shall we shepherds go, God’s son to find?

Edith Ethel was reading to Mrs. de Bray Pape from a letter. She said: “As an American of culture, you will be interested. . . . From the great poet!” . . . A gentleman held a top-hat in front of his face, as if he were in church. Thin, with dull eyes and a Jewish beard! Jews keep their hats on in church. . . .

Apparently she, Valentine Wannop, was going to be denounced before the congregation! Did they bring a scarlet letter. . . . They were Puritans enough, she and Christopher. The voice of the man with the Jewish beard — Sylvia Tietjens had removed the letter from the fingers of Edith Ethel. . . . Not much changed, Edith Ethel! Face a little lined. And pale. And suddenly reduced to silence — the voice of the man with the beard said:

“After all‘. It does make a difference. He is virtually Tietjens of . . .” He began to push his way backwards, outwards. A man trying to leave through the crowd at the church door. He turned to say to her oddly:

“Madame . . . eh . . . Tietjens! Pardon!”

Attempting a French accent.

Edith Ethel remarked:

“I wanted to say to Valentine: if I effect the sale personally I do not see that the commission should be payable.”

Sylvia Tietjens said: They could discuss that outside. Valentine was aware that, some time before, a boy’s voice had said: “Mother, is this sporting?” It occurred to Valentine to wonder if it was sporting of people to call her “Mrs. Tietjens” under Sylvia Tietjens’ nose. Of course she had to be Mrs. Tietjens before the servants. She heard herself say :

“I am sorry Mr. Ruggles called me Mrs. Tietjens before you!”

The eyes of the statue were, if possible, doubly bent on her!

It said drily:

“An the King will ha’e my heid I care na what ye do wi’ my . . .” It was a saying common to both Mark and Christopher . . . That was bitter. She was reminding her, Valentine, that she had previously enjoyed Tietjens’ intimacies — before her, Valentine!

But the voice went on:

“I wanted to get those people out. . . . And to see . . .” It spoke very slowly. Marmo really. The flowers in the jug on the fald-stool needed more water. Marigolds. Orange. . . . A woman is upset when her child moves within her. Some-times more, sometimes less. She must have been very upset: there had been a lot of people in the room; she knew neither how they had come nor how they had gone. She said to Marie Léonie:

“Dr. Span is bringing some bromide. . . . I can’t find those . . .”

Marie Léonie was looking at that figure: her eyes stuck out of her head like Christopher’s. She said, as still as a cat watching a mouse:

“Qui est elle? C’est bien la femme?”

It looked queerly like a pilgrim in a ballet, now, that figure against the light — the long legs slightly bent gave that effect. Actually this was the third time she had seen it — but in the dark house she had not really seen the face. . . . The features had been contorted and thus not the real features: these were the real features. There was about that figure something timid. And noble. It said:

“Sporting! Michael said: ‘ Be sporting, mother!’ . . . Be sporting . . . .” It raised its hand as if to shake a fist at heaven. The hand struck the beam across the ceiling: that roof was so low. And dear! It said: “It was Father Consett really. . . . They can all, soon, call you Mrs. Tietjens. Before God, I came to drive those people out. . . . But I wanted to see how it was you kept him . . . .”

Sylvia Tietjens was keeping her head turned aside, drooping. Hiding a tendency to tears, no doubt. She said to the floor:

“I say again, as God hears me, I never thought to harm your child. . . . His child. . . . But any woman’s. . . . Not harm a child. . . . I have a fine one, but I wanted another. . . . Their littleness. . . . The riding has done it . . . .” Some-one sobbed!

She looked loweringly then at Valentine:

“It’s Father Consett in heaven that has done this. Saint and martyr: desiring soft things! I can almost see his shadow across these walls now it’s growing dark. You hung him: you did not even shoot him, though I my you shot him to save my feelings. . . . And it’s you who will be going on through all the years . . . .”

She bit into a small handkerchief that she had in her hand, concealed. She said: “Damn it, I’m playing pimp to Tietjens of Groby — leaving my husband to you! . . . .”

Someone again sobbed.

It occurred to Valentine that Christopher had left those prints at old Hunt’s sale in a jar on the field. They had not wanted the jar. Then Christopher had told a dealer called Hudnut that he could have that jar and some others as against a little carting service. . . . He would be tired, when he got back, Christopher. He would have, nevertheless, to go to Hudnut’s: Gunning could not be trusted. But they must not disappoint Lady Robinson. . . .

Marie Léonie said:

“C’est lamentable qu’un seul homme puisse inspirer deux telles passions dans deux telles femmes. . . . C’est le martyre de notre vie!”

Yes, it was lamentable that a man could inspire two such passions in two women. Marie Léonie went to look after Mark. There was no Sylvia Tietjens. They say joy never kills. She fell straight down onto the ground, lumpishly! . . . It was lucky they had the Bussorah rug, otherwise Chrissie . . . They must have some money. . . . Poor . . . poor. . . .

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