No More Parades, by Ford Madox Ford

Part Three


A shadow — the shadow of the General Officer Commanding in Chief — falling across the bar of light that the sunlight threw in at his open door seemed providentially to awaken Christopher Tietjens, who would have thought it extremely disagreeable to be found asleep by that officer. Very thin, graceful and gay with his scarlet gilt oak-leaves, and ribbons, of which he had many, the general was stepping attractively over the sill of the door, talking backwards over his shoulder, to someone outside. So, in the old days, Gods had descended! It was, no doubt, really the voices from without that had awakened Tietjens, but he preferred to think the matter a slight intervention of Providence, because he felt in need of a sign of some sort! Immediately upon awakening he was not perfectly certain of where he was, but he had sense enough to answer with coherence the first question that the general put to him and to stand stiffly on his legs. The general had said:

‘Will you be good enough to inform me, Captain Tietjens, why you have no fire-extinguishers in your unit? You are aware of the extremely disastrous consequences that would follow a conflagration in your lines?’

Tietjens said stiffly:

‘It seems impossible to obtain them, sir.’

The general said:

‘How is this? You have indented for them in the proper quarter? Perhaps you do not know what the proper quarter is?’

Tietjens said:

‘If this were a British unit, sir, the proper quarter would be the Royal Engineers.’ When he had sent his indent in for them to the Royal Engineers they informed him that this being a unit of troops from the Dominions, the quarter to which to apply was the Ordnance. On applying to the Ordnance, he was informed that no provision was made of fire-extinguishers for troops from the Dominions under Imperial officers, and that the proper course was to obtain them from a civilian firm in Great Britain, charging them against barrack damages . . . He had applied to several firms of manufacturers, who all replied that they were forbidden to sell these articles to anyone but to the War Office direct . . . ‘I am still applying to civilian firms,’ he finished.

The officer accompanying the general was Colonel Levin, to whom, over his shoulder, the general said: ‘Make a note of that, Levin, will you? and get the matter looked into.’ He said again to Tietjens:

‘In walking across your parade-ground I noticed that your officer in charge of your physical training knew conspicuously nothing about it. You had better put him on to cleaning out your drains. He was unreasonably dirty.’

Tietjens said:

‘The sergeant-instructor, sir, is quite competent. The officer is an R.A.S.C. officer. I have at the moment hardly any infantry officers in the unit. But officers have to be on these parades — by A.C.I. They give no orders.’

The general said dryly:

‘I am aware from the officer’s uniform of what arm he belonged to. I am not saying you do not do your best with the material at your command.’ From Campion on parade this was an extraordinary graciousness. Behind the general’s back Levin was making signs with his eyes which he meaningly closed and opened. The general, however, remained extraordinarily dry in manner, his face having its perfectly expressionless air of studied politeness which allowed no muscle of its polished-cherry surface to move. The extreme politeness of the extremely great to the supremely unimportant!

He glanced round the hut markedly. It was Tietjens’ own office and contained nothing but the blanket-covered tables and, hanging from a strut, an immense calendar on which days were roughly crossed out in red ink and blue pencil. He said:

‘Go and get your belt. You will go round your cookhouses with me in a quarter of an hour. You can tell your sergeant-cook. What sort of cooking arrangements have you?’

Tietjens said:

‘Very good cook-houses, sir.’

The general said:

‘You’re extremely lucky, then. Extremely lucky! . . . Half the units like yours in this camp haven’t anything but company cookers and field ovens in the open . . . ’ He pointed with his crop at the open door. He repeated with extreme distinctness ‘Go and get your belt!’ Tietjens wavered a very little on his feet. He said:

‘You are aware, sir, that I am under arrest.’

Campion imported a threat into his voice:

‘I gave you,’ he said, ‘an order. To perform a duty!’

The terrific force of the command from above to below took Tietjens staggering through the door. He heard the general’s voice say: ‘I’m perfectly aware he’s not drunk.’ When he had gone four paces Colonel Levin was beside him.

Levin was supporting him by the elbow. He whispered:

‘The general wishes me to go with you if you are feeling unwell. You understand you are released from arrest!’ He exclaimed with a sort of rapture: ‘You’re doing splendidly . . . It’s amazing. Everything I’ve ever told him about you . . . Yours is the only draft that got off this morning . . .

Tietjens grunted:

‘Of course I understand that if I’m given an order to perform a duty, it means I am released from arrest.’ He had next to no voice. He managed to say that he would prefer to go alone. He said: ‘ . . . He’s forced my hand . . . The last thing I want is to be released from arrest . . . Levin said breathlessly:

‘You can’t refuse . . . You can’t upset him . . . Why, you can’t . . . Besides, an officer cannot demand a court martial.’

‘You look,’ Tietjens said, ‘like a slightly faded bunch of wallflowers . . . I’m sure I beg your pardon . . . It came into my head!’ The colonel drooped intangibly, his moustache a little ragged, his eyes a little rimmed, his shaving a little ridged. He exclaimed:

‘Damn it! . . . Do you suppose I don’t care what happens to you? . . . O’Hara came storming into my quarters at half-past three . . . I’m not going to tell you what he said . . . ’ Tietjens said gruffly:

‘No, don’t! I’ve all I can stand for the moment . . . ’

Levin exclaimed desperately:

‘I want you to understand . . . It’s impossible to believe anything against . . . ’

Tietjens faced him, his teeth showing like a badger’s . He said:

‘Whom? . . . Against whom? Curse you!’

Levin said pallidly:

‘Against . . . Against . . . either of you . . .

‘Then leave it at that!’ Tietjens said. He staggered a little until he reached the main lines. Then he marched. It was purgatory. They peeped at him from the corners of huts and withdrew . . . But they always did peep at him from the corners of huts and withdraw! That is the habit of the Other Ranks on perceiving officers. The fellow called McKechnie also looked out of a hut door. He too withdrew . . . There was no mistaking that! He had the news . . . On the other hand, McKechnie too was under a cloud. It might be his, Tietjens’, duty, to strafe McKechnie to hell for having left camp last night. So he might be avoiding him . . . There was no knowing . . . He lurched infinitesimally to the right. The road was rough. His legs felt like detached and swollen objects that he dragged after him. He must master his legs. He mastered his legs. A batman carrying a cup of tea ran against him. Tietjens said: Tut that down and fetch me the sergeant-cook at the double. Tell him the general’s going round the cook-houses in a quarter of an hour.’ The batman ran, spilling the tea in the sunlight.

In his hut, which was dim and profusely decorated with the doctor’s ideals of female beauty in every known form of pictorial reproduction, so that it might have been lined with peach-blossom, Tietjens had the greatest difficulty in getting into his belt. He had at first forgotten to remove his hat, then he put his head through the wrong opening; his fingers on the buckles operated like sausages. He inspected himself in the doctor’s cracked shaving-glass; he was exceptionally well shaved.

He had shaved that morning at six-thirty: five minutes after the draft had got off. Naturally, the lorries had been an hour late. It was providential that he had shaved with extra care. An insolently calm man was looking at him, the face divided in two by the crack in the glass: a naturally white-complexioned double-half of a face: a patch of high colour on each cheekbone; the pepper-and-salt hair ruffled, the white streaks extremely silver. He had gone very silver lately. But he swore he did not look worn. Not careworn. McKechnie said from behind his back:

‘By Jove, what’s this all about? The general’s been strafing me to hell for not having my table tidy!’

Tietjens, still looking in the glass, said:

‘You should keep your table tidy. It’s the only strafe the battalion’s had.’

The general, then, must have been in the orderly room of which he had put McKechnie in charge. McKechnie went on, breathlessly:

‘They say you knocked the general . . .

Tietjens said:

‘Don’t you know enough to discount what they say in this town?’ He said to himself: ‘That was all right!’ He had spoken with a cool edge on a contemptuous voice.

He said to the sergeant-cook who was panting — another heavy, grey-moustached, very senior N.C.O.:

‘The general’s going round the cook-houses . . . You be damn certain there’s no dirty cook’s clothing in the lockers!’ He was fairly sure that otherwise his cook-houses would be all right. He had gone round them himself the morning of the day before yesterday. Or was it yesterday? . . .

It was the day after he had been up all night because the draft had been countermanded . . . It didn’t matter. He said:

‘I wouldn’t serve out white clothing to the cooks . . . I bet you’ve got some hidden away, though it’s against orders.’

The sergeant looked away into the distance, smiled all-knowingly over his walrus moustache.

‘The general likes to see ’em in white,’ he said, ‘and he won’t know the white clothing has been countermanded.’ Tietjens said:

‘The snag is that the beastly cooks always will tuck some piece of beastly dirty clothing away in a locker rather than take the trouble to take it round to their quarters when they’ve changed.’

Levin said with great distinctness:

‘The general has sent me to you with this, Tietjens. Take a sniff of it if you’re feeling dicky. You’ve been up all night on end two nights running.’ He extended in the palm of his hand a bottle of smelling-salts in a silver section of tubing. He said the general suffered from vertigo now and then. Really he himself carried that restorative for the benefit of Miss de Bailly.

Tietjens asked himself why the devil the sight of that smelling-salts container reminded him of the brass handle of the bedroom door moving almost imperceptibly . . . and incredibly. It was, of course, because Sylvia had on her illuminated dressing-table, reflected by the glass, just such another smooth, silver segment of tubing . . . Was everything he saw going to remind him of the minute movement of that handle?

‘You can do what you please,’ the sergeant-cook said, ‘but there will always be one piece of clothing in a locker of a G.O.C.I.C.’s inspection. And the general always walks straight up to that locker and has it opened. I’ve seen General Campion do it three times.’

‘If there’s any found this time, the man it belongs to goes for a D.C.M.,’ Tietjens said. ‘See that there’s a clean diet-sheet on the messing board.’

‘The generals really like to find dirty clothing,’ the sergeant-cook said; ‘it gives them something to talk about if they don’t know anything else about cook-houses . . . I’ll put up my own diet-sheet, sir . . . I suppose you can keep the general back for twenty minutes or so? It’s all I ask.’

Levin said towards his rolling, departing back:

‘That’s a damn smart man. Fancy being as confident as that about an inspection . . . Ugh! . . . ’ and Levin shuddered in remembrance of inspections through which in his time he had passed.

‘He’s a damn smart man!’ Tietjens said. He added to McKechnie:

‘You might take a look at dinners in case the general takes it into his head to go round them.’

McKechnie said darkly:

‘Look here, Tietjens, are you in command of this unit or am I?’

Levin exclaimed sharply, for him:

‘What’s that? What the . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Captain McKechnie complains that he is the senior officer and should command this unit.’

Levin ejaculated:

‘Of all the . . . ’ He addressed McKechnie with vigour: ‘My man, the command of these units is an appointment at disposition of headquarters. Don’t let there be any mistake about that!’

McKechnie said doggedly:

‘Captain Tietjens asked me to take the battalion this morning. I understood he was under . . .

‘You,’ Levin said, ‘are attached to this unit for discipline and rations. You damn well understand that if some uncle or other of yours were not, to the general’s knowledge, a protégé of Captain Tietjens’, you’d be in a lunatic asylum at this moment . . . ’

McKechnie’s face worked convulsively, he swallowed as men are said to swallow who suffer from hydrophobia. He lifted his fist and cried out:

‘My un . . . ’

Levin said:

‘If you say another word you go under medical care the moment it’s said. I’ve the order in my pocket. Now, fall out. At the double!’

McKechnie wavered on the way to the door. Levin added:

‘You can take your choice of going up the line to-night. Or a court of inquiry for obtaining divorce leave and then not getting a divorce. Or the other thing. And you can thank Captain Tietjens for the clemency the general has shown you!’

The hut now reeling a little, Tietjens put the opened smelling bottle to his nostrils. At the sharp pang of the odour the hut came to attention. He said:

‘We can’t keep the general waiting.’

‘He told me,’ Levin said, ‘to give you ten minutes. He’s sitting in your hut. He’s tired. This affair has worried him dreadfully. O’Hara is the first C.O. he ever served under. A useful man, too, at his job.’

Tietjens leaned against his dressing-table of meat-cases. ‘You told that fellow McKechnie off, all right,’ he said. ‘I did not know you had it in you . . .

‘Oh,’ Levin said, ‘it’s just being with him . . . I get his manner and it does all right . . . Of course I don’t often hear him have to strafe anybody in that manner. There’s nobody really to stand up to him. Naturally . . . But just this morning I was in his cabinet doing private secretary, and he was talking to Pe . . . Talking while he shaved. And he said exactly that: You can take your choice of going up the line to-night or a court martial . . . So naturally I said as near the same as I could to your little friend . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘We’d better go now.’

In the winter sunlight Levin tucked his arm under Tietjens’, leaning towards him gaily and not hurrying. The display was insufferable to Tietjens, but he recognized that it was indispensable. The bright day seemed full of things with hard edges — a rather cruel definiteness . . . Liver! . . .

The little depot adjutant passed them going very fast, as if before a wind. Levin just waved his hand in acknowledgment of his salute and went on, being enraptured in Tietjens’ conversation. He said:

‘You and . . . and Mrs Tietjens are dining at the general’s to-night. To meet the G.O.C.I.C. Western Division. And General O’Hara . . . We understand that you have definitely separated from Mrs Tietjens . . . Tietjens forced his left arm to violence to restrain it from tearing itself from the colonel’s grasp.

His mind had become a coffin-headed, leather-jawed charger, like Schomburg. Sitting on his mind was like sitting on Schomburg at a dull water-jump. His lips said: ‘Bub-bub-bub-bub!’ He could not feel his hands. He said:

‘I recognize the necessity. If the general sees it in that way. I saw it in another way myself.’ His voice was intensely weary. ‘No doubt,’ he said, ‘the general knows best!’

Levin’s face exhibited real enthusiasm. He said:

‘You decent fellow! You awfully decent fellow! We’re all in the same boat . . . Now, will you tell me? For him. Was O’Hara drunk last night or wasn’t he?’

Tietjens said:

‘I think he was not drunk when he burst into the room with Major Perowne . . . I’ve been thinking about it! I think he became drunk . . . When I first requested and then ordered him to leave the room he leant against the doorpost . . . He was certainly then — in disorder! I then told him that I should order him under arrest, if he didn’t go . . . ’

Levin said:

‘Mm! Mm! Mm!’

Tietjens said:

‘It was my obvious duty . . . I assure you that I was perfectly collected . . . I beg to assure you that I was perfectly collected . . . ’

Levin said: ‘I am not questioning the correctness . . . But . . . we are all one family . . . I admit the atrocious . . . the unbearable nature . . . But you understand that O’Hara had the right to enter your room . . . As P.M.! . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘I am not questioning that it was his right. I was assuring you that I was perfectly collected because the general had honoured me by asking my opinion on the condition of General O’Hara . . .

They had by now walked far beyond the line leading to Tietjens’ office and, close together, were looking down upon the great tapestry of the French landscape.

He,’ Levin said, ‘is anxious for your opinion. It really amounts to as to whether O’Hara drinks too much to continue in his job! . . . And he says he will take your word . . . You could not have a greater testimonial . . . ’

‘He could not,’ Tietjens said studiedly, ‘do anything less. Knowing me.’

Levin said:

‘Good heavens, old man, you rub it in!’ He added quickly: ‘He wishes me to dispose of this side of the matter. He will take my word and yours. You will forgive . . . ’

The mind of Tietjens had completely failed: the Seine below looked like an S on fire in an opal. He said: ‘Eh?’ And then: ‘Oh, yes! I forgive . . . It’s painful . . . You probably don’t know what you are doing.’

He broke off suddenly:

‘By God! . . . Were the Canadian Railway Service to go with my draft? They were detailed to mend the line here to-day. Also to go . . . I kept them back . . . Both orders were dated the same day and hour. I could not get on to headquarters either from the hotel or from here . . . ’

Levin said:

‘Yes, that’s all right. He’ll be immensely pleased. He’s going to speak to you about that!’ Tietjens gave an immense sigh of relief.

‘I remembered that my orders were conflicting just before . . . It was a terrible shock to remember . . . If I sent them up in the lorries, the repairs to the railway might be delayed . . . If I didn’t, you might get strafed to hell . . . It was an intolerable worry . . . ’

Levin said:

‘You remembered it just as you saw the handle of your door moving . . . ’

Tietjens said from a sort of a mist:

‘Yes. You know how beastly it is when you suddenly remember you have forgotten something in orders. As if the pit of your stomach had . . . ’

Levin said:

‘All I ever thought about if I’d forgotten anything was what would be a good excuse to put up to the adjutant . . . When I was a regimental officer . . . ’

Suddenly Tietjens said insistently:

‘How did you know that? . . . About the door handle? Sylvia couldn’t have seen it . . . ’ He added: ‘And she could not have known what I was thinking . . . She had her back to the door . . . And to me . . . Looking at me in the glass . . . She was not even aware of what had happened . . . So she could not have seen the handle move!’

Levin hesitated:

‘I . . . ’ he said. ‘Perhaps I ought not to have said that . . . You’ve told us . . . That is to say, you’ve told . . . ’ He was pale in the sunlight. He said: ‘Old man . . . Perhaps you don’t know . . . Didn’t you perhaps ever, in your childhood?’

Tietjens said:

‘Well . . . What is it?’

‘That you talk . . . when you’re sleeping!’ Levin said.

Astonishingly, Tietjens said:

‘What of that? . . . It’s nothing to write home about! With the overwork I’ve had and the sleeplessness . . . ’

Levin said, with a pathetic appeal to Tietjens’ omniscience:

‘But doesn’t it mean . . . We used to say when we were boys . . . that if you talk in your sleep . . . you’re . . . in fact a bit dotty?’

Tietjens said without passion:

‘Not necessarily. It means that one has been under mental pressure, but all mental pressure does not drive you over the edge. Not by any means . . . Besides, what does it matter?’

Levin said:

‘You mean you don’t care . . . Good God!’ He remained looking at the view, drooping, in intense dejection. He said: ‘This beastly war! This beastly war! . . . Look at all that view . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘It’s an encouraging spectacle, really. The beastliness of human nature is always pretty normal. We lie and betray and are wanting in imagination and deceive ourselves, always, at about the same rate. In peace and in war! But, somewhere in that view there are enormous bodies of men . . . If you got a still more extended range of view over this whole front you’d have still more enormous bodies of men . . . Seven to ten million . . . All moving towards places towards which they desperately don’t want to go. Desperately! Every one of them is desperately afraid. But they go on. An immense blind will forces them in the effort to consummate the one decent action that humanity has to its credit in the whole of recorded history. The one we are engaged in. That effort is the one certain creditable fact in all their lives . . . But the other lives of all those men are dirty, potty and discreditable little affairs . . . Like yours . . . Like mine . . . ’

Levin exclaimed:

‘Just heavens! What a pessimist you are!’

Tietjens said: ‘Can’t you see that that is optimism?’ ‘But,’ Levin said, ‘we’re being beaten out of the field . . . You don’t know how desperate things are.’

Tietjens said:

‘Oh, I know pretty well. As soon as this weather really breaks we’re probably done.’

‘We can’t,’ Levin said, ‘possibly hold them. Not possibly.’

‘But success or failure,’ Tietjens said, ‘have nothing to do with the credit of a story. And a consideration of the virtues of humanity does not omit the other side. If we lose they win. If success is necessary to your idea of virtue —virtus— they then provide the success instead of ourselves. But the thing is to be able to stick to the integrity of your character, whatever earthquake sets the house tumbling over your head . . . That, thank God, we’re doing . . . ’

Levin said:

‘I don’t know . . . If you knew what is going on at home . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Oh, I know . . . I know that ground as I know the palm of my hand. I could invent that life if I knew nothing at all about the facts.’

Levin said:

‘I believe you could.’ He added: ‘Of course you could . . . And yet the only use we can make of you is to martyrize you because two drunken brutes break into your wife’s bedroom . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘You betray your non-Anglo-Saxon origin by being so vocal . . . And by your illuminative exaggerations!’

Levin suddenly exclaimed:

‘What the devil were we talking about?’

Tietjens said grimly:

‘I am here at the disposal of the competent military authority — You! — that is inquiring into my antecedents. I am ready to go on belching platitudes till you stop me.’ Levin answered:

‘For goodness’ sake help me. This is horribly painful. He— the general — has given me the job of finding out what happened last night. He won’t face it himself. He’s attached to you both.’

Tietjens said:

‘It’s asking too much to ask me to help you . . . What did I say in my sleep? What has Mrs Tietjens told the general?’

‘The general,’ Levin said, ‘has not seen Mrs Tietjens. He could not trust himself. He knew she would twist him round her little finger.’

Tietjens said:

‘He’s beginning to learn. He was sixty last July, but he’s beginning.’

‘So that,’ Levin said, ‘what we do know we learnt in the way I have told you. And from O’Hara of course. The general would not let Pe . . ., the other fellow, speak a word, while he was shaving. He just said: “I won’t hear you. I won’t hear you. You can take your choice of going up the line as soon as there are trains running or being broke on my personal application to the King in Council."’

‘I didn’t know,’ Tietjens said, ‘that he could talk as straight as that.’

‘He’s dreadfully hard hit,’ Levin answered; ‘if you and Mrs Tietjens separate — and still more if there’s anything real against either of you — it’s going to shatter all his illusions. And . . . ’ He paused: ‘Do you know Major Thurston? A gunner? Attached to our anti-aircraft crowd? . . . The general is very thick with him . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘He’s one of the Thurston’s of Lobden Moorside . . . I don’t know him personally . . . ’

Levin said:

‘He’s upset the general a good deal . . . With something he told him . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Good God!’ And then: ‘He can’t have told the general anything against me . . . Then it must be against . . . ’

Levin said:

‘Do you want the general always to be told things against you in contradistinction to things about . . . another person?’

Tietjens said:

‘We shall be keeping the fellows in my cook-house a confoundedly long time waiting for inspections . . . I’m in your hands as regards the general . . . ’

Levin said:

‘The general’s in your hut: thankful to goodness to be alone. He never is. He said he was going to write a private memorandum for the Secretary of State, and I could keep you any time I liked as long as I got everything out of you . . . ’

Tietjens said:

Did what Major Thurston allege take place . . . Thurston has lived most of his life in France . . . But you had better not tell me . . . ’

Levin said:

‘He’s our anti-aircraft liaison officer with the French civilian authorities. Those sort of fellows generally have lived in France a good deal. A very decentish, quiet man. He plays chess with the general and they talk over the chess . . . But the general is going to talk about what he said to you himself . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Good God! . . . He going to talk as well as you . . . You’d say the coils were closing in . . . ’

Levin said:

‘We can’t go on like this . . . It’s my own fault for not being more direct. But this can’t last all day. We could neither of us stand it . . . I’m pretty nearly done . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Where did your father come from, really? Not from Frankfurt? . . . ’

Levin said:

‘Constantinople . . . His father was financial agent to the Sultan; my father was his son by an Armenian presented to him by the Selamlik along with the Order of the Medjidje, first class.’

‘It accounts for your very decent manner, and for your common sense. If you had been English I should have broken your neck before now.’

Levin said:

‘Thank you! I hope I always behave like an English gentleman. But I am going to be brutally direct now . . . He went on: ‘The really queer thing is that you should always address Miss Wannop in the language of the Victorian Correct Letter-Writer. You must excuse my mentioning the name: it shortens things. You said “Miss Wannop” every two or three half-minutes. It convinced the general more than any possible assertions that your relations were perfectly . . . ’

Tietjens, his eyes shut, said:

‘I talked to Miss Wannop in my sleep . . . ’

Levin, who was shaking a little, said:

‘It was very queer . . . Almost ghostlike . . . There you sat, your arms on the table. Talking away. You appeared to be writing a letter to her. And the sunlight streaming in at the hut. I was going to wake you, but he stopped me. He took the view that he was on detective work, and that he might as well detect. He had got it into his mind that you were a Socialist.’

‘He would,’ Tietjens commented. ‘Didn’t I tell you he was beginning to learn things? . . . ’

Levin exclaimed:

‘But you aren’t a So . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Of course, if your father came from Constantinople and his mother was a Georgian, it accounts for your attractiveness. You are a most handsome fellow. And intelligent . . . If the general has put you on to inquire whether I am a Socialist I will answer your questions.’

Levitt said:

‘No . . . That’s one of the questions he’s reserving for himself to ask. It appears that if you answer that you are a Socialist he intends to cut you out of his will . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘His will! . . . Oh, yes, of course, he might very well leave me something. But doesn’t that supply rather a motive for me to say that I am? I don’t want this money.’

Levin positively jumped a step backwards. Money, and particularly money that came by way of inheritance, being one of the sacred things of life for him, he exclaimed:

‘I don’t see that you can joke about such a subject!’

Tietjens answered good-humouredly:

‘Well, you don’t expect me to play up to the old gentleman in order to get his poor old shekels.’ He added: ‘Hadn’t we better get it over?’

Levin said:

‘You’ve got hold of yourself?’

Tietjens answered:

‘Pretty well . . . You’ll excuse my having been emotional so far. You aren’t English, so it won’t have embarrassed you.’

Levin exclaimed in an outraged manner:

‘Hang it, I’m English to the backbone! What’s the matter with me?’

Tietjens said:

‘Nothing . . . Nothing in the world. That’s just what makes you un-English. We’re all . . . well, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with us . . . What did you gather about my relations with Miss Wannop?’

The question was unemotionally put and Levin was still so concerned as to his origins that he did not at first grasp what Tietjens had said. He began to protest that he had been educated at Winchester and Magdalen. Then he exclaimed, ‘Oh!’ And took time for reflection.

‘If,’ he said finally, ‘the general had not let out that she was young and attractive . . . at least, I suppose attractive . . . I should have thought that you regarded her as an old maid . . . You know, of course, that it came to me as a shock, the thought that there was anyone . . . That you had allowed yourself . . . Anyhow . . . I suppose that I’m simple . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘What did the general gather?’

‘He . . . ’ Levin said, ‘he stood over you with his head held to one side, looking rather cunning . . . like a magpie listening at a hole it’s dropped a nut into . . . First he looked disappointed: then quite glad. A simple kind of gladness. Just glad, you know . . . When we got outside the hut he said “I suppose in vino veritas,” and then he asked me the Latin for “sleep” . . . But I had forgotten it too . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘What did I say?’

‘It’s . . . ’ Levin hesitated, ‘extraordinarily difficult to say what you did say . . . I don’t profess to remember long speeches to the letter . . . Naturally it was a good deal broken up . . . I tell you, you were talking to a young lady about matters you don’t generally talk to young ladies about . . . And obviously you were trying to let your . . . Mrs Tietjens, down easily . . . You were trying to explain also why you had definitely decided to separate from Mrs Tietjens . . . And you took it that the young lady might be troubled . . . at the separation . . . ’

Tietjens said carelessly:

‘This is rather painful. Perhaps you would let me tell you exactly what did happen last night . . .

Levin said:

‘If you only would!’ He added rather diffidently: ‘If you would not mind remembering that I am a military court of inquiry. It makes it easier for me to report to the general if you say things dully and in the order they happened.’

Tietjens said:

‘Thank you . . . ’ and after a short interval, ‘I retired to rest with my wife last night at . . . I cannot say the hour exactly. Say half-past one. I reached this camp at half-past four, taking rather over half an hour to walk. What happened, as I am about to relate, took place therefore before four.’

‘The hour,’ Levin said, ‘is not material. We know the incident occurred in the small hours. General O’Hara made his complaint to me at three-thirty-five. He probably took five minutes to reach my quarters.’

Tietjens asked:

‘The exact charge was . . . ’

‘The complaints,’ Levin answered, ‘were very numerous indeed . . . I could not catch them all. The succinct charge was at first being drunk and striking a superior officer, then merely that of conduct prejudicial in that you struck . . . There is also a subsidiary charge of conduct prejudicial in that you improperly marked a charge-sheet in your orderly room . . . I did not catch what all that was about . . . You appear to have had a quarrel with him about his red caps . . . ’

‘That,’ Tietjens said, ‘is what it is really all about.’ He asked: ‘The officer I was said to have struck was . . .?’ Levin said:

Perowne . . . ’ dryly.

Tietjens said:

‘You are sure it was not himself. I am prepared to plead guilty to striking General O’Hara.’

‘It is not,’ Levin said, ‘a question of pleading guilty. There is no charge to that effect against you, and you are perfectly aware that you are not under arrest . . . An order to perform any duty after you have been placed under arrest in itself releases you and dissolves the arrest.’

Tietjens said coolly:

‘I am perfectly aware of that. And that that was General Campion’s intention in ordering me to accompany him round my cook-houses . . . But I doubt . . . I put it to you for your serious attention whether that is the best way to hush this matter up . . . I think it would be more expedient that I should plead guilty to a charge of striking General O’Hara. And naturally to being drunk. An officer does not strike a general when he is sober. That would be a quite inconspicuous affair. Subordinate officers are broken every day for being drunk.’

Levin had said ‘Wait a minute,’ twice. He now exclaimed with a certain horror:

‘Your mania for sacrificing yourself makes you lose all . . . all sense of proportion. You forget that General Campion is a gentleman. Things cannot be done in a hole-and-corner manner in this command . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘They’re done unbearably . . . It would be nothing to me to be broke for being drunk, but raking up all this is hell.’

Levin said:

‘The general is anxious to know exactly what has happened. You will kindly accept an order to relate exactly what happened.’

Tietjens said:

‘That is what is perfectly damnable . . . ’ He remained silent for nearly a minute, Levin slapping his leggings with his riding-crop in a nervously passionate rhythm. Tietjens stiffened himself and began:

‘General O’Hara came to my wife’s room and burst in the door. I was there. I took him to be drunk. But from what he exclaimed I have since imagined that he was not so much drunk as misled. There was another man lying in the corridor where I had thrown him. General O’Hara exclaimed that this was Major Perowne. I had not realized that this was Major Perowne. I do not know Major Perowne very well and he was not in uniform. I had imagined him to be a French waiter coming to call me to the telephone. I had seen only his face round the door: he was looking round the door. My wife was in a state . . . bordering on nudity. I had put my hand under his chin and thrown him through the doorway. I am physically very strong and I exercised all my strength. I am aware of that. I was excited, but not more excited than the circumstances seemed to call for . . . ’

Levin exclaimed:

‘But . . . At three in the morning! The telephone!’

‘I was ringing up my headquarters and yours. All through the night. The O.I.C. draft, Lieutenant Cowley, was also ringing me up. I was anxious to know what was to be done about the Canadian railway men. I had three times been called to the telephone since I had been in Mrs Tietjens’ room, and once an orderly had come down from the camp. I was also conducting a very difficult conversation with my wife as to the disposal of my family’s estates, which are large, so that the details were complicated. I occupied the room next door to Mrs Tietjens and till that moment, the communicating door between the rooms being open, I had heard when a waiter or an orderly had knocked at my own door in the corridor. The night porter of the hotel was a dark, untidy, surly sort of fellow . . . Not unlike Perowne.’

Levin said:

‘Is it necessary to go into all this? We . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘If I am to make a statement it seems necessary. I would prefer you to question me . . . ’

Levin said:

‘Please go on . . . We accept the statement that Major Perowne was not in uniform. He states that he was in his pyjamas and dressing-gown. Looking for the bathroom.’

Tietjens said: ‘Ah!’ and stood reflecting. He said:

‘May I hear the . . . purport of Major Perowne’s statement?’

‘He states,’ Levin said, ‘what I have just said. He was looking for the bathroom. He had not slept in the hotel before. He opened a door and looked round it, and was immediately thrown with great violence down into the passage with his head against the wall. He says that this dazed him so that, not really appreciating what had happened, he shouted various accusations against the person who had assaulted him . . . General O’Hara then came out of his room . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘What accusations did Major Perowne shout?’

‘He doesn’t . . . ’ Levin hesitated, ‘eh! . . . elaborate them in his statement.’

Tietjens said:

‘It is, I imagine, material that I should know what they are . . . ’

Levin said:

‘I don’t know that . . . If you’ll forgive me . . . Major Perowne came to see me, reaching me half an hour after General O’Hara. He was very . . . extremely nervous and concerned. I am bound to say . . . for Mrs. Tietjens. And also very concerned to spare yourself! . . . It appears that he had shouted out just anything . . . As it might be “Thieves!” or “Fire!” . . . But when General O’Hara came out he told him, being out of himself, that he had been invited to your wife’s room, and that . . . Oh, excuse me . . . I’m under great obligations to you . . . the very greatest . . . that you had attempted to blackmail him!’

Tietjens said:

‘Well! . . . ’

‘You understand,’ Levin said, and he was pleading, ‘that that is what he said to General O’Hara in the corridor. He even confessed it was madness . . . He did not maintain the accusation to me . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Not that Mrs Tietjens had given him leave? . . . ’

Levin said with tears in his eyes:

‘I’ll not go on with this . . . I will rather resign my commission than go on tormenting you . . . ’

‘You can’t resign your commission,’ Tietjens said.

‘I can resign my appointment,’ Levin answered. He went on sniffling: ‘This beastly war! . . . This beastly war! . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘If what is distressing you is having to tell me that you believe Major Perowne came with my wife’s permission I know it’s true. It’s also true that my wife expected me to be there. She wanted some fun: not adultery. But I am also aware — as Major Thurston appears to have told General Campion — that Mrs Tietjens was with Major Perowne. In France. At a place called Yssingueux-les-Pervenches . . . ’

‘That wasn’t the name,’ Levin blubbered. ‘It was Saint . . . Saint . . . Saint something. In the Cevennes . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Don’t, there! . . . Don’t distress yourself . . . ’

‘But I’m . . . ’ Levin went on, ‘under great obligations to you . . . ’

‘I’d better,’ Tietjens said, ‘finish this matter myself.’

Levin said:

‘It will break the general’s heart. He believes so absolutely in Mrs Tietjens. Who wouldn’t? . . . How the devil could you guess what Major Thurston told him?’

‘He’s the sort of brown, trustworthy man who always does know that sort of thing,’ Tietjens answered. ‘As for the general’s belief in Mrs. Tietjens, he’s perfectly justified . . . Only there will be no more parades. Sooner or later it has to come to that for us all . . . ’ He added with a little bitterness: ‘Only not for you. Being a Turk or a Jew you are a simple, Oriental, monogamous, faithful soul . . . ’ He added again: ‘I hope to goodness the sergeant-cook has the sense not to keep the men’s dinners back for the general’s inspection . . . But of course he will not . . . ’

Levin said:

‘What in the world would that matter?’ fiercely. ‘He keeps men waiting as much as three hours. On parade.’

‘Of course,’ Tietjens said, ‘if that is what Major Perowne told General O’Hara it removes a good deal of my suspicions of the latter’s sobriety. Try to get the position. General O’Hara positively burst in the little sneck of the door that I had put down and came in shouting: “Where is the —— blackmailer?” And it was a full three minutes before I could get rid of him. I had had the presence of mind to switch off the light and he persisted in asking for another look at Mrs Tietjens. You see, if you consider it, he is a very heavy sleeper. He is suddenly awakened after, no doubt, not a few pegs. He hears Major Perowne shouting about blackmail and thieves . . . I dare say this town has its quota of blackmailers. O’Hara might well be anxious to catch one in the act. He hates me, anyhow, because of his Red Caps. I’m a shabby-looking chap he doesn’t know much about. Perowne passes for being a millionaire. I daresay he is: he’s said to be very stingy. That would be how he got hold of the idea of blackmail and hypnotized the general with it . . . ’

He went on again:

‘But I wasn’t to know that . . . I had shut the door on Perowne and didn’t even know he was Perowne. I really thought he was the night porter coming to call me to the telephone. I only saw a roaring satyr. I mean that was what I thought O’Hara was . . . And I assure you I kept my head . . . When he persisted in leaning against the doorpost and asking for another look at Mrs Tietjens, he kept on saying: “The woman” and “The hussy.” Not “Mrs Tietjens.” . . . I thought then that there was something queer. I said: “This is my wife’s room,” several times. He said something to the effect of how could he know she was my wife, and . . . that she had made eyes at himself in the lounge, so it might have been himself as well as Perowne.. I dare say he had got it into his head that I had imported some tart to blackmail someone . . . But you know . . . I grew exhausted after a time . . . I saw outside in the corridor one of the little subalterns he has on his staff, and I said: “If you do not take General O’Hara away I shall order you to put him under arrest for drunkenness.” That seemed to drive the general crazy. I had gone closer to him, being determined to push him out of the door, and he decidedly smelt of whisky. Strongly . . . But I dare say he was thinking himself outraged, really. And perhaps also coming to his senses. As there was nothing else for it I pushed him gently out of the room. In going he shouted that I was to consider myself under arrest. I so considered myself . . . That is to say that, as soon as I had settled certain details with Mrs Tietjens, I walked up to the camp, which I took to be my quarters, though I am actually under the M.O.’s orders to reside in this hotel owing to the state of my lungs. I saw the draft off, that not necessitating my giving any orders. I went to my sleeping quarters, it being then about six-thirty, and towards seven awakened McKechnie, whom I asked to take my adjutant’s and battalion parade and orderly-room. I had breakfast in my hut, and then went into my private office to await developments. I think I have now told you everything material . . . ’

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53